5 Easy Steps to Innovation — NOT!
Max Becker

Max Becker

If you google the word inno­va­tion, you will get more than 500 mil­lion hits in less than a sec­ond. As we stat­ed in our first arti­cle, the term itself has become rather a buzz­word than a mean­ing­ful expres­sion that has real impact on today’s busi­ness. In this arti­cle we there­fore want to grasp the sci­ence and seman­tics behind it, so that we not just drift in the realm of buzz­words. Fur­ther­more we will dis­cuss the impor­tance of the cor­po­rate cul­ture for cre­at­ing a sys­tem where inno­va­tion can emerge.

Back to Basics!

Inno­va­tion in its very essen­tial mean­ing can be defined as an eco­nom­i­cal­ly usable inven­tion, which involves some­thing fun­da­men­tal­ly new. In order to make it more com­pre­hen­si­ble, let me give you an exam­ple.

To this day Thomas Edi­son is rec­og­nized as one of the most bril­liant minds of his time, and espe­cial­ly the inven­tion of the light bulb is close­ly linked to his name. Strict­ly speak­ing, how­ev­er, we should not speak about an inven­tion in this con­text, because in fact Edi­son has achieved an inno­va­tion here. The inven­tion of elec­tric light actu­al­ly took place fifty years ear­li­er and already at that time efforts were made to use the asso­ci­at­ed tech­nol­o­gy for every­day life. Edi­son was sim­ply the first to devel­op an inno­va­tion from this ini­tial inven­tion — in oth­er words, a mar­ket-ready solu­tion that is far more than just an idea, but in the case of the light bulb, a mass prod­uct with an eco­nom­ic pur­pose. The deci­sive step towards inno­va­tion is there­fore the com­mer­cial­iza­tion of inven­tions. But how can today’s com­pa­nies ensure that they cre­ate the right struc­tures for this pro­found form of inno­va­tion? The most impor­tant answer might be that inno­va­tion has to be under­stood as an ongo­ing social process.

Innovation as a Social Construct

The devel­op­ment of inno­va­tions is no longer con­fined to the Research and Devel­op­ment Depart­ment but rather we have to talk about a holis­tic sys­tem that involves numer­ous busi­ness units and dif­fer­ent activ­i­ties. For com­pa­nies, this implies less atten­tion to detailed process­es and orga­ni­za­tion­al con­straints. Instead it is about cre­at­ing the appro­pri­ate cir­cum­stances to enable coop­er­a­tion between all the rel­e­vant stake­hold­ers or as the inno­va­tion researcher Ilk­ka Tuo­mi puts it: “We should there­fore under­stand inno­va­tion as a mul­ti­fo­cal process of devel­op­ment where an ecol­o­gy of com­mu­ni­ties devel­ops new uses for exist­ing tech­no­log­i­cal arte­facts, at the same time chang­ing both char­ac­ter­is­tics of these tech­nolo­gies and their own prac­tices.” In oth­er words a sin­gle tech­nol­o­gy might have mul­ti­ple uses, and new uses may be invent­ed for already exist­ing arte­facts.

In sum­ma­ry, the tech­nol­o­gy must cer­tain­ly be defined as one of the main dri­vers of inno­va­tion, but all too often the real inno­va­tion hap­pens through peo­ple rather than the mere tech­nol­o­gy. Say­ing this, a company’s cul­ture is one of the biggest suc­cess fac­tors in devel­op­ing inno­va­tions that real­ly make a dif­fer­ence.

“Cul­ture Eats Strat­e­gy for Break­fast” (Peter Druck­er)

You are right — this quote from Druck­er is a clas­sic one. But there is a rea­son why it pops up in my LinkedIn-Feed on a reg­u­lar basis. Of course every com­pa­ny has its own cor­po­rate cul­ture. Cul­ture is lit­er­al­ly every­where. And if this were your typ­i­cal “How to cre­ate an inno­va­tion cul­ture in 5637278476 easy steps” arti­cle, you would next find a list of the usu­al sus­pects: Fail fast! Inno­va­tions need time — take it! Build cre­ative spaces and plat­forms! Be agile (what­ev­er this means — inter­pre­ta­tions may vary)! Be dig­i­tal (what­ev­er this means — inter­pre­ta­tions def­i­nite­ly vary)! Ideas over titles!

I won’t do that.

Not because I don’t agree with the points men­tioned above but because we have to ask our­selves a few very sim­ple ques­tions before: Is the cul­ture we are so des­per­ate­ly pur­su­ing real­ly the one we need? How can we devel­op the struc­tures nec­es­sary for inno­va­tions to emerge? What are the rel­e­vant val­ues so that my orga­ni­za­tion can reach its desired future state?

First and fore­most, it needs to be under­stood that a cul­ture can­not be imple­ment­ed or defined by a spe­cif­ic process. Instead we have to think about a com­plex sys­tem that is char­ac­ter­ized by both cre­ativ­i­ty and entre­pre­neur­ship. It is about cre­at­ing the right con­di­tions so that cer­tain pat­terns and habits are active­ly enabled to devel­op. If you are a leader and you want to evolve your com­pa­ny this means com­plex­i­ty and the usu­al lega­cy man­age­ment rules do not apply here any longer. A true inno­va­tion cul­ture con­sists of net­works of diverse teams that pro­vide the ver­sa­til­i­ty need­ed to embrace change and devel­op new behav­ioral pat­terns. Once these self-organ­ised net­works are cre­at­ed a unique sense of cre­ativ­i­ty and entre­pre­neur­ial think­ing will emerge, which is based on a com­mon lan­guage and a com­mon set of beliefs. Say­ing this and refer­ring to the con­cept of an inno­va­tion as a social con­struct, inno­va­tion is more based on cul­ture than it is on out­puts.

I am Max, Part­ner at 1789 — Beyond Rev­o­lu­tion, a strate­gic con­sul­tan­cy with a focus on help­ing orga­ni­za­tions cre­ate new struc­tures and empow­er­ing teams. Do you agree or dis­agree with my thoughts? Do you want to share your sto­ry? Please leave a com­ment below!



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