Creating a culture of innovation

By September 2, 2008 4 Comments

After reading on Broadstuff about the hype surrounding the release of Judy Estrin‘s new book Closing the Innovation Gap: Reigniting the Spark of Creativity in a Global Economy I thought I would go and check it out. You can get read the first ten or so pages for free on Amazon (handy since you can’t even buy the book yet, something wrong about that…) and it looks interesting.

Judyis concerned to understand how to make innovation happen and leaning on Pixar as an example she decries the ‘flash of inspiration’ model of innovation and instead suggests you need to foster a culture that favours innovation. That culture should encourage questioning, risk taking, openness, pationce and trust.

Moreover, these values need to be in balance – pushed to an extreme, any of them can stifle innovation. As she points out, trust without questioning is blind, too much patience breeds inactivity, etc. She also says that “questioning without trust” can become merely judgemental. That is something I think we suffer from a bit much in the UK – too much skeptical questioning, often delivered by a bright, but caustic, individual, can be a real break on innovation and dampner on morale.

Running a startup is a continuous process of innovation – even if the original idea comes in a moment of brilliance and doesn’t need iteration the company will get nowhere if there isn’t further creativity. Innovation will be required in turning the idea into a product or service, product marketing, branding, defining a route to market, corporate organisation – and that is far from a complete list. In most of these areas there will be false starts and tweaks as the team experiments to get its model just right.

That is too much for the CEO to do by herself. To maximise the chances of success you need a culture of innovation throughout the business. I’m going to finish by repeating the five elements questioning, risk taking, openness, pationce and trust – and by adding one appropriate for startups, particularly once they hit the 40-50 people stage – delegation.