In Part 1 of this blog series, we discussed the first concept – innovation strategies – and how it relates to organizational performance, as well as how it relates to the challenges and barriers that an organization may face. In Part 2, we discussed the second concept – innovation management – and how it relates to models of innovation, organizational resistance, and competitive advantage. Now we will discuss the third concept – innovation culture.
Innovation: Culture – Incorporation, Functional Fixedness, and Constraints
If an organization’s culture does not already encourage innovation, organizations can improve innovativeness through culture manipulation. Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines culture as “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group.” [ref]Whittinghill, C., Berkowitz, D., & Farrington, P. A. (2015). Does Your Culture Encourage Innovation? Defense Acquisition Research Journal: A Publication of the Defense Acquisition University, 22(2), 216-239.[/ref] Both organizational culture and organizational structure interact with each other, creating organizations that either innovate well, implement innovations well, or achieve both depending on the combination of culture and structure type.
According to Whittinghill, Berkowitz & Farrington, organizations that have an innovation culture share five attributes:
(1) Support for innovation – this attribute is most closely related to an organization’s affinity for innovativeness and refers to its encouragement of creativity and willingness to change; managers who support innovation will often communicate the importance of thinking creatively and will recognize and praise innovators inside of the organization
(2) Resource supply for innovation – managers will ensure that their organizations set aside time, manpower, and funding in order to pursue innovative endeavors
(3) Collaboration – when organizational managers and employees interact with one another and value each other’s thought and ideas, innovation is more likely to flow more freely
(4) Workforce autonomy – organizational employees are not negatively affected by groupthink or cumbersome regulations, and are free to solve problems the way they see fit
(5) Managerial trust/workforce enthusiasm – employees are motivated by their work and trusted by managers to perform their work without being micromanaged
Of the above five attributes, support for innovation best represents an innovative climate because it most directly influences organizational expectations for innovative behavior. [ref]Whittinghill, C., Berkowitz, D., & Farrington, P. A. (2015). Does Your Culture Encourage Innovation? Defense Acquisition Research Journal: A Publication of the Defense Acquisition University, 22(2), 216-239.[/ref]
Because the world in which one must live and work is uncertain and constantly changing, new innovations and inventions are being introduced in all fields at a rapid pace. If organizations wish to survive and thrive, they must be constantly developing new ideas and fresh opinions. For this to happen, “the spirit of creativity and innovation should be blown at them. The importance of creativity and innovation is to some extent that human life and civilization are not simply conceivable without them.” [ref]Yasini, P. (2016). Specific Characteristics of Innovation Management Process. International Journal of Organizational Leadership, 5(2), 162-171.[/ref] Neither are successful organizations conceivable without creativity and innovation; therefore, managers must actively seek to incorporate creativity and innovation in their organizations.
It is not enough for organizations to only focus on acquiring the latest machines, computers, and software programs. Technology alone is not what allows organizations to survive and thrive. Stephen M. Shapiro, author of 24/7 Innovation: A Blueprint for Surviving in an Age of Change, says that companies need innovative business models that leverage technology so that their people can make the best use of their innate creativity. Managers can create an innovative culture in their organizations by driving it themselves and by implementing strategies such as making everyone accountable, encouraging and rewarding employee innovations, challenging employees to compete, and replacing rigid processes with clear business objectives.
“A culture of innovation can be a company’s primary source of competitive advantage, and it can pay off steadily over the years,” Shapiro says. “Any high-performance culture is difficult to replicate, but innovation is in a class by itself. Once embraced by employees, innovation becomes a way of life. It ensures that all the human capital is in step and striving to produce outcomes of value for the organization.” [ref]Lynn, J. (2002). Unleashing Innovation: Put Creativity to Work Throughout Your Organization. Commercial Law Bulletin, 17(5), 40.[/ref]
Managers can also help create an organizational culture of innovation and creativity by speaking out against “functional fixedness” – a cognitive bias which limits people to seeing objects only in the way in which they’re traditionally used to seeing them. Along with this bias, managers must also be on alert for design fixation and goal fixedness – two more cognitive barriers to innovation.
Through a process called “brainswarming,” managers can practice and help their employees practice thinking in innovative ways to look at common business problems. “When people generate ‘brainswarming’ graphs together, it’s best for the group to work initially in silence, write contributions on sticky notes, and place the sticky notes at the proper place on the ever-growing graph.” [ref]Mccaffrey, T., & Pearson, J. (2015). Find Innovation Where You Least Expect It. Harvard Business Review, 93(12), 82-89.[/ref] Working in silence prevents the talkative ones from dominating the session and also allows people to move between thinking, writing down ideas, placing them on the graph, and building on one another’s ideas.
In creating a culture of innovation, managers should provide a certain amount of constraints and discipline. Those who adhere to the advice of “think outside the box” view constraints as the enemy of creativity because they sap intrinsic motivation and limit possibilities. Sophisticated innovators, however, have long recognized that constraints spur and guide innovation.
Applying a few simple rules and guidelines to important parts of the innovation process can help organizations maintain appropriate levels of structure and creativity. [ref]Sull, D. (2015). The Simple Rules of Disciplined Innovation. McKinsey Quarterly, (3), 86-97.[/ref] Organizations can embrace a more disciplined approach to innovation by applying a few simple rules to key steps in the innovation process.
“Simple rules add just enough structure to help organizations avoid the stifling bureaucracy of too many rules and the chaos of none at all. By imposing constraints on themselves, individuals, teams, and organizations can spark creativity and channel it along the desired trajectory.” [ref]Sull, D. (2015). The Simple Rules of Disciplined Innovation. McKinsey Quarterly, (3), 86-97.[/ref]