September 18, 2017

Fostering innovative culture to cope with disruptions

When disruptive forces threaten optimal performance, companies must create new models for action to restore the bottom line. One such approach is grounded in building innovative organisational culture.

In fact, innovation has always been one of the core processes that every organisation must nurture in order to remain viable. Innovation goes beyond simply responding to change; instead, it creates change in the environment that other organisations must respond to, and therefore can become a sustainable competitive advantage.

So, how do we really foster a successful innovative culture within companies? If you’re serious about innovation, as a leader you need to these: change the culture to celebrate failure and change the system to fail earlier, faster and more cheaply.

First and foremost, to change to an innovative culture, we need to emphasise at least three aspects: the right mindset, collaborative teams and environments conducive to innovation.

It’s crucial to form the right mindset for innovation. Let go of the notion that creativity is only for gifted people. Instead, it must be stressed that creativity and lateral thinking can be learned. We are all naturally creative but our education systems and traditional workplace practices tend to shut down that natural curiosity and creativity we all had when we were young.

Then, you need to create collaborative and cross-disciplinary teams. There should no longer be a boxed organisation of talent where skills are used only in silos. We need to encourage multidisciplinary teams that can bring about multi-dimensional perspectives to come up with the most versatile solutions.

The environment also can make a difference in bringing about innovation. Playful workspaces and the fun activities we engage in can greatly influence our thinking, our perceptions or even our mindset. Many innovative companies are now investing in creating workspaces that allow their employees to have fun and be creative.

While these factors are all essential, I’d like to remind you that even with adult-sized playground/offices such as those in Google, Facebook or Line, if companies do not genuinely change their culture to celebrate failure and prioritise innovation, nothing will happen.

Don’t get me wrong: when I talk about celebrating failure I don’t mean failure caused by negligent or unprofessional behaviour. I mean failure that comes from trying something different with the intention of finding a better way of serving customer needs — experimenting, exploring, and finding out what works and what doesn’t.

It’s also important to understand the full implication of the term “celebrate failure”. It’s not actually the failure itself that you’re celebrating; it’s the learning that comes from that failure and which moves you closer to the right solution.

It’s important to remember to actually celebrate too. “Celebrate” doesn’t just mean tolerate or ignore failure — it means publicly recognising people for trying something, failing, learning, and trying again. Promote people who fail and learn over those who play it safe. Some companies even hold parties to celebrate failures — or rather, to celebrate moving a step closer to the solution.

Another critical step in building people’s confidence to risk something and try a different approach is to encourage them to use fast prototyping and testing with real customers. It’s incredible how many companies invest substantial time and money to bring a finished product or service to market without ever showing it to a customer. The cost of failure at this late stage is huge — and so is the embarrassment of a very public disaster.

If you want people to be more comfortable with experimentation, teach them the skills to fail fast, fail early and fail cheaply — and so succeed faster. Whether it’s a product, a service or an experience, you can create a quick physical mock-up or role play to engage customers and get critical feedback on what works and what doesn’t. This costs virtually nothing and helps you “fail forward” towards the next iteration and ultimately find a great solution.

In today’s world, innovation is not just another desirable value that companies are searching for; rather it is the lifeline of your business sustainability. The problem is that, in the current climate of rapid change and constant disruption, it is more difficult to forecast the future. This means that we need a new approach for an innovative culture to become truly embedded within organisations.

Design Thinking can be helpful in this sense as it is an approach that can be used to reawaken that dormant creativity. It offers a clear and proved process and emphasises cross-disciplinary collaboration where designers, business analysts, engineers and marketers work together to develop the most revolutionary ideas. As well, it encourages us all to fail forward often and cheaply so that we can move more quickly towards breakthrough innovations.


Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC (formerly APMGroup) Southeast Asia’s leading executive, leadership and innovation capability development centre. She can be reached by email at or

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First published at Bangkok Post