In our interviews with thought leaders about innovation, one aspect keeps coming up: culture. But what are we talking about when we invoke an “Innovation Culture”?
As the digital expert Rahaf Harafoush explained, innovation is an ecosystem and it depends on a series of factors, and each is related to culture in a specific way, from the subjective perspective to the wider framework of society.
Innovation starts with the creativity of the person.
The individual remains the very basic and fundamental unit of the innovation process and we can say that innovation starts with an act of creativity.
It is believed that creativity is an innate gift of some individuals; however, research shows that creativity is a skill and as a skill it can be taught, coached and improved.
So it is possible educate to innovation, and this is the first step where culture is important: it is important to teach people how to be more creative, in order to foster innovation. Schools and universities are primary spaces where to teach “innovation”.
If someone is creative but is part of a team where new ideas are not welcome, innovation cannot go further. Another important factor in a team, for example, is adversity to risk. The entire work group needs to be willing to take risks.
Professor Katharina Hölzle, with her experience in organizations and Design Thinking, highlights the value of a diversified group with different backgrounds and expertise: the combination of different points of view makes it easier to think out of the box. In a mixed team, the leader is a role that changes along the process, it’s the person who better knows how to solve a problem, so in the first phase can be a UX researcher, or an engineer: when it comes to deliver to the market, probably a marketing expert can take the lead.
The third level is related to the corporate culture.
Rahaf Harafoush told us that the corporate structure needs to be prepared to welcome an innovation. This means having an organizational structure that makes it possible to develop and deliver the solution or the product to the market. But it is not just an organizational issue, when we talk about the innovation culture in a company, we must include the supportive behavior – especially from the managers of the organization. To be supportive means, on one hand, providing the needed resources, but also moral support, if needed. One of the most important aspects is to be patient and ready to accept failure: your employees need to be sure that if something fails (and in an innovation process, a couple of failures always happen), the experiment won’t end there, but there will be a second, third, fourth chance. Your team needs to be sure that they are not going to lose their job and they won’t be blamed. If you want to foster an innovation culture, your organization and the leaders in first place need to be aware of the unpredictable risks, they need to prepare to sustain and embrace failures.
Finally, we take into account the level of society. No company exists and operates in a vacuum, but rather in an environment that sets boundaries in terms of laws and – in a more profound way – in terms of ethics.
Developing innovation without knowing the social environment you are part of, is like making bricks without straw.
If you want a more innovative culture you need to keep in mind and take care of all these levels, starting from the individual, up to the culture of the society you are part of.
About the FLI Thought Leader Rahaf Harfoush
Rahaf Harfoush is a Strategist, Digital Anthropologist, and Best-Selling Author who focuses on the intersections between emerging technology, innovation, and digital culture. She is the founder of Red Thread Inc., a boutique consultancy and think tank that supports organizations in transforming digital trends into strategic opportunities. She teaches “Innovation & Emerging Business Models” at Sciences Po’s MBA program in Paris. In 2008 she took part at the Obama campaign and she collected her experience in her bestseller “Yes We Did! An Inside Look at how Social Media Built the Obama Brand”. She is now working on her new book “Hustle and Float: Balancing Execution and Inspiration in World of Constant Connection”.
About the FLI Thought Leader Prof. Dr. Katharina Hölzle