January 1, 2018

Welcoming innovation to your organisation

It’s officially 2018!

2017 was quite a turbulent year with challenges and surprises in spades. For some, it might have been a fruitful year, while for others it was definitely one of hardship.

The beginning of the year is the time for New Year’s resolutions, for most organisations it is a crucial time to work on formulating a new strategy or rejuvenating some old ones. Before writing this article, I was thinking about several topics trying to find the best way to start off the year. Eventually I decided there is nothing more appropriate than the topic of innovative culture.

At times like this when disruptive forces threaten optimal performance, companies must create new models for action to preserve and improve the bottom line. One worthy approach is grounded in building an innovative organisational culture.

Innovation has always been one of the core processes that every organisation must nurture in order to retain its viability. Innovation in an organisation 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.

Innovation can manifest itself in multiple ways ranging from strategy to business processes, operational and management methods. It could, for example, involve a technological change that alters the products and services you deliver, or a business model change that helps define the values you offer.

Still, even the best technology or the most advanced tools cannot guarantee organisational success. Instead, for organisations to be able to fully reap the benefits of innovation, a clear focus on business strategy and goals to guide the company in the direction it needs to go is crucial. You must define and set the context for the role that innovation will play in delivering profitable growth.

Many research studies have found that most organisations understand the importance of innovation, but for a variety of reasons, a great majority of them have been unable or unsuccessfully integrate it into their corporate cultures.

We rarely hear this admitted by corporate leadership, but when it comes to genuine change, most companies talk more about change far more than they actually engage in carrying it out. One main reason is fear. Some fear making the wrong change and others fear leaving the safety and comfort of the known.

As well, we have all observed that as humans become more assimilated into the processes that govern their company, the intractable inertia against positive change can be overwhelming.

So, how do we really foster a successful innovative culture within companies?

First and foremost, it must be noted that innovation only comes by invitation and dedication. Time, money and people need to be allocated in the search for innovation. It is not possible to predict when innovation will appear, or who will introduce it. You cannot just pencil it into your datebook or assign specific people to have innovative breakthroughs.

Instead, organisations need to find ways to encourage innovation in all their people, and support them when they have new ideas.

Why do you think companies such as Microsoft, Samsung, Apple or Facebook invest so much in creativity and innovation? Do you know that Google formally allows its employees to devote 20% of their time to thinking?

So, if you’re serious about innovation, I’d say leaders or managers need to be the ones in charge of inviting innovation. They need to let go of their own fixation on their authority and allow people to share ideas and try new things. They must be open-minded and value new knowledge as well as give serious consideration to the new and different. In other words, they need to encourage others to think creatively, since this will lead to a higher chance that people might have a creative breakthrough when they think creatively more often.

In short, as a leader you need to do the following: change the culture to celebrate failure and change the system to fail earlier, faster and more cheaply.

There are reasons why top companies such as Google, 3M and IBM value innovation so much. They do not hesitate to let their people freely raise ideas, take ownership of them and implement such ambitious notions because they know it’s the road to innovation.

In today’s world, innovation is not just another desirable value that companies are seeking; rather it is the lifeline of your business sustainability, but it can’t happen if the people at the top of the company do not welcome it. Hence, I’d say that if you could grant one New Year gift to your people this year, let it be this highly valuable innovative culture.

Happy New Year!

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 arinya_t@seasiacenter.com or www.linkedin.com/in/arinya-talerngsri-53b81aa

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