September 24, 2019

Five traits of an innovative culture

Curiosity, willingness to fail, inspiring leaders, human development and good communication

Culture is not something that is built by one person; rather, it takes an entire workforce to contribute in more ways than one. If a culture of innovation is what your organisation is aiming for, then every department, from top to bottom, needs to agree and align with each other on how they understand innovation and how they plan to implement it. Here are the five traits that can help you build an innovative culture:

Curiosity: Are your people curious enough to ask multiple questions? 

Curiosity makes you think. You need to build the habit of asking questions and seeking new and better answers. Some of your experiments may not lead to any tangible outcome, but the knowledge you gain in the process of experimenting can be of greater value.

Some leading companies like Microsoft or Google hire employees more for their attitude than their skill. People who have an attitude for learning with curiosity tend to grow not just within their role, but are also better able to reskill when the need arises.

Failure is a Part of Learning: How does your organisation handle mistakes? 

Failure reveals your organisation’s weaknesses and helps you grow as much as success improves your strengths.

When the Jacuzzi brothers invented a whirlpool bath to treat people who suffer from arthritis, the product worked perfectly, but the sales crashed because it was too expensive for the target market.

They learned from their mistake and relaunched the product as a luxury item, and not just a medical device, and it became a huge success.

Humility to accept your mistakes and wisdom to learn from them and adjust accordingly are a must for anyone aspiring to be an innovator.

Inspiring Leaders: Do your leaders take accountability for innovation or do they just preach without practising? 

To build an innovative culture, you need leaders who are willing to lead by example. They much not just speak about thinking outside of the box and transformation, but also must show their team how to do it. The biggest motivation for your workforce comes from the attitude of their leaders, and not from compensation and policies.

To inspire their teams, leaders can start by removing all the layers of hierarchy that block or slow the process of innovation, giving the team space and freedom to experiment and making failure and learning a normal daily activity.

In short, innovation requires a work culture that motivates people every single day, and you can’t do it alone unless your leaders at every level do their part.

A Development Plan for all Employees: What is the reward for innovative thinking? 

Personal and professional development is always at the top of an employee’s list of expectations. Asking your employees to do better without the opportunity to learn and grow doesn’t serve any benefit to them or the organisation.

If you want your team to grow in terms of productivity, efficiency, quantity or quality, you have to provide them with learning paths and achievable benefits for every level of growth to motivate them.

Innovation requires consistent learning, and learning requires specific motivation, and motivation comes from anticipation of the outcome. What do your workers get in return for learning?

Good Communication Skills: How do the members of your workforce communicate and explain ideas to one another? 

At the core of every organisational activity, whether it is innovation or any other business task, resides communication. A great idea can be ruined by poor communication, and even great people with outstanding knowledge and expertise can end up becoming terrible leaders due to their lack of communication skills.

If you have terrible communication skills, no matter how impressive your innovation stories may be, you might not be able to inspire anyone — not even your own people, let alone your potential customers.

Most often the value of your ideas is only as good as your communication skills.

Ginni Rometty, the CEO of IBM, gave a good piece of advice to businesses when she said: “The only way to survive is to continuously transform yourself into something else. It’s this idea of continuous transformation that makes you an innovation company.”

An innovative culture is not some kind of a peak on the mountain that you climb, or a place to settle. It is rather a journey into the sea. You never know the magnitude and direction of the next wave that is going to hit your ship.

The best thing you can do is prepare yourself, your people and your organisation to have the ability to withstand whatever future challenges lie ahead of you.


Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC (formerly APMGroup) Southeast Asia’s Lifelong Learning Center. She can be reached by email at arinya_t@seasiacenter.com or https://www.linkedin.com/in/arinya-talerngsri-53b81aa. Experience our lifelong learning ecosystem today at https://www.yournextu.com/