The Hunt for Great Ideas


3 ways that business leaders can drive a culture of innovation & creativity

The pressure to innovate in business is stronger than ever. Short product lifecycles, customer expectations and the onward race of technology all mean that Peter Drucker’s dictum “innovate or die” has never been more salient.

Obviously, not every company has creativity hard wired in to the DNA of their culture in the way that an organisation like Google definitely has. As a business leader, if you see the need to boost creativity and innovation, how do you go about it?

The thought of culture change can seem scary and challenging. How do you go about fundamentally altering the way that people think and behave? There are numerous complex models and approaches out there to help you to change your culture, but the good news is that there is a lot you can do at a simple level to start to drive the creativity that you need from your people.

One of the best definitions of corporate culture is simply “the way things are done around here.” With that in mind, the easy to grasp opportunity is to just start doing things a little differently – focusing on some of the key things that affect how people behave – what they hear from their leaders, how they are rewarded and how they work with others. By making sure that your leadership messages consistently set the tone, that you move away from a blame culture to one that encourages trial and error and that you actively encourage creative collaboration, you can start to achieve great things.

Here are 3 simple things that you can do to start to create an environment where innovation can flourish:

1. Be clear on your expectations

If innovation really matters to your business, then leaders need to be clear and consistent with how they promote that message. People should know that thinking creatively and looking for new opportunities is not just for the marketing people or somebody further up the pay scale, but that there is an expectation that everyone has a role to play. This is Twitter’s mission statement:

“To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers.”

Would that get you out of bed in the morning?

2. Allow failure

The essence of innovation is experimentation. When employees are not afraid of the repercussions of failure, they will be prepared to experiment with new ways to approach challenging problems. They need to know that they will get the support of their managers when things go wrong, every bit as much as they will get recognition and appreciation when they go right.

As creativity expert Ken Robinson says, “If you are not prepared to be wrong, then you will never come up with anything original.”

3. Recognise that innovation is a team game

Successful innovation is rarely an individual pursuit. How well you reach out to other functions, business units and stakeholders, in order to leverage all of the expertise that is out there, will be central to your success. In a complex industry, collaboration is key to achieving breakthrough thinking and implementing effective solutions.

A great example of this in action is Proctor and Gamble’s “Connect & Develop” strategy. It has helped them to develop hundreds of highly innovative new products over the last few years. They actively approach other leading companies, inventors and stakeholders to share ideas and insights, in the knowledge that this collaboration creates the sparks that can produce brilliant new ideas.  The key to building an innovation culture is all about cultivating a mindset that allows people to learn to see the world in new ways.


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