We know that at this stage of the economic recovery cycle, market share is changing hands as companies start to feel the first effects of the uplift. We also know that the most innovative companies in each sector are at the receiving end of this market share.

The key to consistently successful innovation isn’t just about having a handful of people with a few great ideas – it’s about creating an organizational culture that allows creativity and innovation to thrive systematically, and then harnessing that creativity to produce innovation that delivers long-term competitive advantage for the business.

Though people often confuse them, leaders and managers have very different roles. Managers are there to manage complexity, ensuring that employees carry out their given tasks as quickly and efficiently as possible. They are concerned with what’s going on inside the organization.

Leaders are concerned with what’s going on outside the organization. It’s their task to look ahead and prepare the business for what’s coming so that it can survive and thrive. By definition, leaders manage change, and that often requires adapting or doing something different: innovating something within the business in order for it to adapt, grow and retain competitive advantage.

Therefore innovation = change.
And change is not always welcome.

In fact, most organizations are resistant to change. People like to know where they stand and they prefer to keep the status quo. There may be vested interests, employees or managers who believe they will lose out if you start doing things a different way. Perhaps it’s outside their comfort zone. After all, change inherently means risk.

The importance of starting with culture

For these reasons, many businesses at some level are anti-innovation. They do not have a culture that consistently embraces the possibility of change. But to borrow an evolutionary metaphor, if your environment is changing then there’s no choice: you have to adapt to survive.

At Destined we believe that culture underpins high performance in business. If you get your beliefs, values and culture right, commercial success will naturally follow. Businesses that support creativity, innovation and flexibility adapt to a changing environment faster than the competition.

This kind of creativity and innovation can’t be bolted on to a business. It needs to be explicitly built in as part of its culture. Most organizations have a transactional culture: their people do what they do because they’re asked to and because they get paid for it. Great innovative organizations have a relational culture: one in which people are encouraged to participate in solving problems together – and they are happy to because they generally feel they have an investment in the success of the business in the future.

Ideation, invention, innovation

In practice, this process of change has three stages. It starts with individuals creating or generating ideas – ideation. These ideas are then brought together, discussed, honed and adapted to provide solutions – invention. Finally, these solutions and technologies are productized to produce new products and services that can be valued or commercialized – innovation.

The task of leaders is to ensure their organization is always fit for purpose. The best way to do that is to foster a culture of innovation both at the strategic level and at the operational, or both product and service level.

How innovative is your business?

When working with clients to assess their culture and ability to innovate within their business we measure several critical competencies, including:

  • Leadership/vision – how open are you as a leader to innovation – do you understand and support it?
  • Mind-set and culture – how are new ideas treated in your business? The innovation mind-set of the organization must support the exploitation of ideas that could improve your business.
  • Clearly aligned strategy – what evidence is there in your company annual reports or business plan that innovation is systematically put into practice?
  • Intellectual property – how much of your valuable factors for competitive advantage have you codified and protected – and do you do this systematically?

Focusing on culture as the starting point for consistently successful innovation is a powerful approach for many fast growing businesses. And as it can’t be bought, outsourced or delegated, it’s a business owner or leader’s personal responsibility to create the focus and change needed for innovation to flourish.

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