We line in a world that is referred to as a world of 3C’s – Accelerated Changes, Overwhelming Complexity and Intense Competition. To have a competitive edge requires that an organization (and an individual) will be innovative. Simply put, innovation must be at the cornerstone of every organization that seeks to be successful in the 21st century.
Innovation, according to the Webster dictionary, is defined as the introduction of something new. It is the use of a new method or idea. Innovative organizations are constantly seeking for ways to improve on their methods and ideas in order to better the lots of their cutomers.
Innovative organizations tend to be decentralized, informal, minimally stratified, and generalized rather than specialized. They have cultures that value independent thinking, risk taking, and learning. They are tolerant of failure and they value diversity. Open communication is reinforced and there is a high degree of trust and respect between individuals. In particular:
Innovative organizations have vision
Organizations with vision are better able to appreciate and use people’s creative talents. When an organization has vision it is focused on long-term outcomes. True vision is the ability to create a future from nothing. All organizations have a past, a history. Visionaries are able to create or design their future without being constrained by what has happened before.
They do not determine what will work in the future from what has, or has not, worked in the past. Paradoxically, this is balanced by their ability to learn lessons from experience. It means having a future that is informed by the past rather than dictated by it.
Innovative organizations change because they see a better way and not because they have to change
They are able to continually re-invent themselves in a focused, yet flexible fashion. They are pushing forward from today, driven by a compelling vision of the future. There is a huge difference between creating your own future and reacting to a future that hits you between the eyes! Too often, change is only considered as a last resort to save the day.
Innovative organizations are always on the lookout for new products, new markets, and new ways of doing things
They know their customers, and are constantly learning from them, using the most demanding customers to drive their own innovation and competitiveness. The organization continuously engages in thinking and action that directly or indirectly affect the future “bottom-line.” In other words, they maintain intense customer focus.
Innovative organizations value substance over form:
This is a very important characteristics of innovative organizations. Results-oriented cultures will always have more creativity. “Form over substance” cultures, where following the rules and sticking with defined processes are more important than coming up with the correct answer, are the bane of creativity and innovation. Creativity and innovation are present in every culture, but flourish best in those cultures that can put the ideas to work rather than smother them in formal review processes. Therefore, they tend to be “tight/loose” organizations; tight on the outcome measures of success but loose on the processes of how the outcomes are achieved.
They build creativity and innovation into the fabric of the company, and reward it:
When a problem needs a solution, the default position is: “How can we do this more creatively?” Creativity is both explicitly and (more importantly) implicitly encouraged. The management team knows what to do when someone comes to it with an idea. Managers provide support and recognition for the creative temperament.
Creative individuals are used as role models. “Legends” are told (and retold) about innovators. Creativity is not seen just as the prerogative of a few selected individuals; the expectation exists that everyone can be creative in their own field.
Innovative organizations encourages openness and “playfulness”
Innovative organizations practice open book management. All go to great lengths to encourage communication throughout all levels of the organization. Most recognize the value of random meetings and interactions and have designed their facilities to encourage such activities. A company I heard about, eLab (now part of Sapient) in Chicago included a “Napatorium”, a “Leave-Me-Alone Room”, and a room where each project was displayed for feedback from other teams and individuals in its offices. Most other companies designed their facilities with numerous small meeting areas throughout, each with a unique, fun, playful décor, intended to facilitate random conversations. Some have regular events with fun, often family oriented themes. These all have a way of bringing out innovation in the work force.
Innovative organizations supports cross functional teams.
This is one key strategy of companies that are innovative – they incorporate cross functional teams and/or cross functional training as a regular, formal methodology. They look out for skills they need in a particular team and fill it up. Each project in development was team based, teams, at a minimum, were composed of designers, engineers, planners and marketing people.
An innovative organization engages everyone throughout the organization in the task of developing and implementing new ways to reach the organization's goals. And everyone indeed includes everyone from the chief executive to frontline workers.
Getting the chief executive to be innovative ought not to be too difficult. After all, the chief executive was not repeatedly promoted to more and more sophisticated responsibilities without a few creative ideas along the way. We expect that the chief executive of a business division or a government agency will be innovative (though, all too often, we are disappointed).
Regardless of how difficult it is to get the chief executive to be innovative it will certainly be more difficult to get middle managers to be innovative, still more difficult to get frontline supervisors to be innovative, and perhaps even more difficult to convince frontline workers that part of their job includes being innovative. This raises important questions: Is it possible to create an innovative organization? Is it possible to persuade every individual in the organization that an important part of his or her responsibility is to develop and implement new ways of achieving the organization's purposes? For most people, I suspect, the answer to these questions is yes.