How to Build a Culture of Innovation in Your Business
Every company claims to value innovation. But adding it to your mission statement and making it a reality are two very different things. If the culture of your business doesn’t support innovation then it will stifle it.
So how can you create a culture of innovation?
Our first reaction to innovation is often to shut it down. We got defensive about why we work the way we do, and so end up rejecting new ideas. The first step in creating a culture of innovation is to break from this by actively encouraging openness.
That means openness to ideas, openness to change, openness to learning. From the top down, you have to be willing to listen to new ideas, even if they clash with your own. To steal a technique from improv, your first reaction to a suggestion or a challenge should never be no, it should be “yes, and…” If the idea doesn’t work, you can abandon it later. But if you shoot ideas down at the starting blocks, you won’t hear any more.
To innovate, you have to be willing to fail. Not every new idea is going to work, and you won’t know which are which until you try.
Don’t treat every failure as a black mark against a person or team. Celebrate the bold, heroic failures. Show people that they can take risks and that doing so will bring its own rewards.
When you’re judging what’s a success and what’s a failure, aim for improvement, not perfection. It’s good to have an ideal aim you aspire to, but you’ll get there through lots of small steps. Let people make small improvements and treat those as the successes they are, even if they don’t bring you to your goal yet.
Innovation is only possible when you have a variety of ideas. To get that, you need a diverse staff.
- Hire people from different backgrounds and with different educations.
- Mix and match skill sets within teams.
- Encourage people to work with those outside their area.
- Encourage them to learn new skills, even if they aren’t directly relevant to their work. That’s how you’ll get fresh insights instead of the same old solutions you’ve seen before.
To foster innovation, you need to create space for it. Give people the time and tools they need to try new things and then leave them to innovate. Resist the urge to keep checking in. People are at their most creative when they’re trusted to follow their ideas.
Empower ordinary team members to implement change in their areas without having to go up the chain for approval. This way they will feel ownership over their processes and see that they really can create something new.
Encourage them to use quick, short iterations in developing new products and processes. Seeing an end result is encouraging and empowering. It might not be the big shift you were after, but a series of small iterations can get you there just as fast.
With openness, empowerment, and a willingness to embrace failure, you can turn a diverse work force into a powerful innovating team.