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!