Innovation and problem-solving are important skills that organizations, large and small, are seeking from their employees. As such, it is becoming critical for managers to understand how to build organizations that will allow innovation not only to survive but also to thrive. Here are a few thoughts regarding innovation culture, influence, and trends.
Innovation and problem-solving are important skills that organizations, large and small, are seeking from their employees. As such, it is becoming critical for managers to understand how to build organizations that will allow innovation not only to survive, but also to thrive. Here are a few thoughts regarding innovation culture, influence, and trends.
Establishing a culture of innovation creates a competitive advantage for an organization. It all begins with executive level support and the willingness to invest in people who see the value of innovation. Most individuals develop small innovations from time to time, but they relate only to tasks that are important to them. Culture helps nurture individual behaviors and foster a work environment where people can successfully implement innovative ideas on a much larger scale. So understanding how culture brings out individual innovative behaviors can explain why some organizations are more innovative than others. When organizational cultures embrace innovation, problem-solving, and change initiatives, those organizations that were once following the competition emerge as leaders within their own respective industries.
Executive level support for innovation is the difference between organizations that are successful with new product introductions and companies that waste limited organizational resources. Without management support, innovation will go nowhere and will create a very difficult work environment for those who tend to be more creative, innovative, and entrepreneurial. Leadership has a substantial impact on how culture is formed at the organizational level because it influences personal beliefs, values, and attitudes toward innovation. Organizations that are highly competitive and performance-oriented have the ability to foster innovative behaviors because they are driven by leaders who have the ability to effectively lead change initiatives. Culture affects organizational and employee effectiveness, productivity, communication, collaboration, how problems are solved, innovation, personal commitment, and motivation. When leaders create a highly innovative culture they tend to take personal responsibility for individuals on their teams and instill a sense of coaching and mentoring of others. The primary goal of an innovative culture is for all organizational members to be developed to their full potential so they can also contribute to change-related activities. An employee reaches their full potential when they become responsible for developing new products and services that are introduced into the marketplace, which creates a distinct competitive advantage for the organization.
Today, the study of innovation as a bona fide discipline is somewhat parallel to how management studies evolved in the 1950’s and 1960’s. There is a significant change or shift in how organizations are approaching the innovation process. Leaders within organizations are recognizing the strategic importance of innovation. As a result, we are seeing more and more C-level positions and departments specifically dedicated to innovation and strategy. Typically, individuals in a C-Level innovation position focus on searching out new technologies, processes, techniques or product ideas, they lead and develop teams to generate creative ideas that solve problems, they promote and champion the ideas and change initiatives to others, they investigate and secure funding needed to implement new ideas while mitigating risk, and they develop adequate plans and schedules for the implementation. The end result of the innovation process is a new product introduction that fuels revenue growth and profitability, while also developing an innovation process model that fits the organization and its culture.
Government involvement in creating an innovative environment can be challenging, especially if the innovative environment is in a developing country. Typically, in developing countries policies are created at very high levels and filter down without much consensus. This, in turn, creates minimal buy-in from individuals who are actually affected by the policies. Even the best plans have numerous issues, both factual and perceptual, such as infrastructure, access to education, or corrupt political leaders. On the other hand, in more developed countries, government support toward innovation is extremely helpful because it influences an innovative culture at the national level by providing funding, tax-incentives, and innovation ecosystems. To further the innovative environment, governments need to focus on bridging the gap between academics and industry through the support of integrated curriculum that teaches innovation, problem-solving, creativity, and critical thinking skills in an applied context.
Building an ecosystem at the organizational level begins with understanding the organization’s core capabilities and identifying specific strengths that are difficult for others to replicate. Also, work environments play a critical role in fostering creativity and innovation, but the lack of knowledge, skills, and resources are often the root cause of poor innovation methods. Additionally, building a team based on individuals’ experience with innovation plays a vital role in developing an ecosystem because when different people interact with one another in a formal and/or informal manner as part of an established collective learning process they are able to learn and imitate innovative behaviors. When employees have the ability to comprehend, stimulate, evaluate, and understand the “know-why and know-how” they will be better equipped to assist in the management of the innovation process, which will translate into a competitive advantage. Individuals’ work and life experiences do have strong influential effects on learning, especially with the prior knowledge that employees possess about a particular process or organizational method. The more organizations desire to drive innovation at the organizational level, it becomes extremely important to have individuals in place who have experience with the innovation process to manage, evaluate, and control the innovation process. Investing in people and viewing them as a resource rather than capital tends to aid in the development of an entrepreneurial mindset.
Some of the latest trends in the field of innovation include more of a focus on innovation education and entrepreneurship within colleges and universities. This focus provides the necessary support for the development of employees who will think entrepreneurially. Organizations that build collaborative teams using in-house entrepreneurs become a tremendous force in the marketplace. These teams are able to instinctively identify gaps in the marketplace and turn opportunities into action. Another trend is the increased number of C-level innovation-related positions like a chief innovation officer and departments like the office of innovation and strategy. As the marketplace gets extremely competitive, companies must find a way to think not only creatively, but also strategically. Finally, more and more companies are using an unique approach toward innovation by blending leadership and creative problem-solving techniques with project management skills. An employee with these skill sets are becoming the in-house entrepreneurs.
Innovation is an extremely complex and fluid process that is difficult to harness. However, the more we understand factors that contribute to innovation like culture, leadership, government influence, and the development of people, innovation will begin to thrive within once dormant organizations and create competitive advantages. Finding problems is easy, but solving those problems creatively and purposefully is what separates the leaders from the followers.