November 13, 2012
The Four Currents of a Culture of Innovation

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I've been doing a lot of thinking these days about "culture of innovation" -- trying to get down to the root of what the heck it's all about.

It's easy to wax poetic about the topic (and a lot of people do), but too much of the stuff I've been reading sounds like bad advertising copy for motherhood and apple pie.

So, at the risk of oversimplifying the whole thing, here's my blogospheric whack at boiling the mumbo jumbo down to the core.

If you want to create a sustainable culture of innovation, you will need to understand that there are always four forces at work -- four currents that are always interacting with each other:

1. Top Down
2. Bottom Up
3. Outside In
4. Inside Out

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1. TOP DOWN: It is essential that the leaders of your organization play a "culture-enhancing role" far more than they currently do. They may not think they have the time or the experience, but they've got to step up to the plate and really own the effort.

The people in the trenches need to know that the head honchos not only care about innovation, but are willing to do whatever it takes to establish a company culture conducive to it.

I'm not advocating phony pep talks from the C-Suite. I'm advocating that senior leaders actually lead the effort. I'm advocating that all those wonderful people with three letter acronyms after their name walk the innovation talk... stir the soup... shake and bake... and do everything they can do to martial company resources in whatever way is necessary to transform "business as usual" to "I love this place and I can't wait to get to work." Yes, it's possible.

2. BOTTOM UP:
If an organization wants to innovate, it will need to get everyone into the act. Not just senior leaders. Not just R&D. Everyone. Ideas -- the fuzzy front end of innovation -- can come from anywhere, anytime. When an organization really GETS this and finds new ways to tap the collective brainpower of the workforce, the culture starts changing for the better. People become more proactive. More energized. More passionate about their work.

Indeed, it could easily be said that the democratization of the workplace is one of the most important social movements of the 21st century. As power and decision-making trickle down, creative output ratchets up. People become self-organizing, self-directed and, on a really good day, selflessly committed to being a force for positive change.

3. OUTSIDE IN: Establishing a culture of innovation is only meaningful if the fruits of the effort yield the kind of results that are valued by your customers. Otherwise, the effort to "change the culture" will turn into some kind of weird, solipsistic ritual that will have no impact on the people you are serving.

Do you know who your customers are? Do you know what they want? Do you have any kind of process in place to track changing market conditions, demographics, and emerging trends? Have you figured out how to get real feedback and input from your customers -- how to include them in your ideation process?

4. INSIDE OUT: Ah... now we're really getting down to it. If you want a culture of innovation, you will need to find a way to unleash the passion, fascination, and inspiration of your workforce.

Not by dangling carrots and sticks (read Dan Pink's new book, Drive, if you doubt me), but by finding a way to activate the innate desire for meaning, enjoyment, and success that is buried deep within the bones of every single person who shows up for work day after day.

Organizations don't innovate. People do.

If you can find a way to unlock the primal mojo of your workforce, you won't need to manage as much as you do. You won't need to rely so heavily on incentive plans, performance reviews, pep talks, frowns, and punishment.

That stuff only exists because your workforce is disengaged.

But when people are on fire with purpose, in touch with their own authentic desire to create, a culture of innovation will naturally evolve.

A big thank you to Val Vadeboncoeur, Tim Moore, Barry Gruenberg, Paul Roth, and Michael Pergola for their humongous collaboration, insight, creativity, and perseverance on this topic.

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at November 13, 2012 04:27 PM

Comments

Sadly, over the past 10 years, almost all large corporations have proactively killed all internal support for innovation in their cultures.

This is the cycle a human society goes through every time it approaches the point in our societal cycle when it must make a big choice. That choice is either to collapse under the weight of unchecked fear/conservatism and attempt a futile retreat into a past that is gone or, alternatively; to succeed by putting aside fear of change/progress and investing with faith in the future being better than the past; even if it is different from the past

As "Gozer the Gozerian" said to the Ghostbuster's in the 1984 movie..... "Choose the Form of the Destructor!" http://ghostbusters.wikia.com/wiki/Gozer

For us right now it seems the thought that "Just Popped In there" for Ghostbuster Dr. Ray Stantz was not the "Staypuff Marshmallow Man". It was instead "Corporate Cost Cutting as a Business Culture".

Unless we as a culture make the group decision to invest heavily again in innovation we will see a collapse that in some parts of the world will look very much like the "Dark Ages". We are approaching 7 Billion humans "cards" stacked up as a house of cards.

Without innovation as the glue to keep it together this could be a very ugly collapse.

Choose!

With Hope for The Future,
Roger

Posted by: Roger Toennis [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 29, 2010 10:42 AM

Great post and a simple framework to think about innovation form all dimensions. Your "top down" commentary reminded me of this post related to marketing leaders.
http://marketing-has-changed.com/attributes-of-an-effective-marketing-leader-part-7-initiative/

Posted by: John Ellett [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 29, 2010 04:20 PM

I had to comment on the post by Mitch Ditkoff. I thought it was moving and wonderful. What wonderful pictures.

Posted by: susan smith [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 30, 2010 04:44 PM

Thank you Mitch and the team for this accurate assessment.

For is it not pride of a prestigious position that sets management up to be "higher" then its "subordinates"?
I mean they get paid more for what, wearing a better suit, and at least thinking that they're it, they're the one.

The new Robin Hood movie is so time honored, because here exemplified one who changed the system, by being a core center of strength, which others magnetically gravitated to.
Without that one rare consciousness that has the ability to hold the respect and love of the team, and be that clear core center of sanity, fragmentation becomes the inevitable result. However if the foundational pillars are solid, the structure too will take on those same properties.

Posted by: Jan Buchalter [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 17, 2010 03:25 AM

About 100 people have traditionally controlled innovation in the world, and it is awesome that the Internet is enabling a democratized, bottom-up approach to dominate. Innovation has traditionally taken place in only a few innovation centers or through hierarchal, top-down institutional controls (like the music industry). The traditional corporate approach to innovation and development has become a poor fit for a creative, fast-moving world. The decentralization has allowed individuals to challenge traditional narratives, which lets other people to make their own choices. It is good to further the idea that innovation is everywhere, and anyone can come up with a revolutionary idea. But somehow, applying that on a practical level seems to be difficult for businesses. Good article, we would do well if more people followed your advice.

Posted by: ArtTechLaw [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 14, 2013 06:44 AM

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