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Building an innovative culture? Here are two pitfalls to avoid…

June 29, 2018   by David Gambrill

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Companies often make two common blunders when they seek to disrupt themselves.

First, some talk about hiring a bunch of “intrapreneurs” – creative geniuses who break all the rules and swim against the corporate tide – and then silo them off into self-contained departments to work on brilliant ideas for the organization.

Second, some organizations expect innovation to be possible within a context of total team harmony, in which everyone works well together because they are all “on the same page.”

The first example is problematic because innovative thinking should be encouraged throughout all aspects of the entire organization, Andrew Corbett writes in a blog for Harvard Business Review.

“To start, innovation must be recognized as a permanent function of a successful company, just like other business functions such as accounting, operations, sales, and finance,” writes Corbett.

“But this innovation division can’t be siloed off from the rest of the business. Company incubators and innovation labs that are isolated from the rest of the organization tend to have limited success, because they are disconnected from a larger system. Game-changing innovations require a holistic approach across the organization.”

Five key features of an innovative organization include:

  • A leadership willing to commit to an innovation culture.
  • A governance structure that delivers on a clear mandate to promote breakthrough innovation.
  • An inclusive organizational structure in which different parts of the company routinely interact with each other.
  • Company-wide processes, tools and metrics required to effect and measure change. They should be designed for innovation cycles that are longer than incremental product innovation.
  • People with talent and skills that go beyond traditional R&D or new product development roles.

Inclusive conversations among the various innovative people in your company leads to the second example of something companies should not do when innovating: Don’t expect creative geniuses to agree with one another all the time, say bloggers Darko Lovric and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic.

“When teams and organizations enjoy too much harmony, they will gravitate toward inaction and complacency, which, as Clayton Christensen noted 20 years ago in The Innovator’s Dilemma, will breed decline and extinction,” they write. “William Wrigley Jr., the American chewing gum tycoon, once noted that business is built by men who disagree, and that ‘When two men always agree, one of them is unnecessary.’”

The lesson for leaders is obvious, the authors write. “Fight harmony, inject some tension into your teams and organizations, and embrace a moderate amount of conflict.”

This can be done three ways:

  • Create challenging goals that are neither too easy, nor unachievable.
  • Sustain positive stress. Most things worth doing are hard to do. Managers must frame challenges as opportunities and keep in mind the distance yet to be travelled.
  • Good managers are able to create a supportive environment in which people can speak honestly and use disagreements to reach more-considered decisions.