Designing An Innovative Culture

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This post, authored by Frank Wander of PeopleProductive, is reprinted with permission.  We’ll be hosting a webinar with Frank on Monday May 19th at 1:00pm — CLICK HERE for more details.

Every person and team is creative by birth, and so are you!  Today, creativity is rewarded, yet in short supply. Learn how to unlock it and excel. You can create both personal and competitive advantage.

The workforce feels down, unmotivated, and unloved.  Everyone speaks about the employee engagement crisis, but few offer solutions.  Yet, there is one.  Management must stop treating workers as interchangeable parts, and learn as much about the human infrastructure as their computers, processes and competitors.  The shared emotional needs that underpin organizational effectiveness are actually indispensable tools, and the key to unlocking creativity and innovation.  Let’s look a little more deeply at why.

Everyone is creative.  Children have abundant creativity, and if you look at how cleverly humans shaped the environment to their needs, you see it was, is, and will remain fundamental to the dominance and survival of our species.  We have plenty of creative potential.  Yet, today there is a lack of innovation in traditional corporate America.  What happened?  Quite simply, corporations treated workers as parts who were given no room to think and create.  Add to that an educational system that rewarded memorization, and the outcome is self-evident. But don’t let this fool you.  You have creativity locked inside you – and your organization if you are a leader.  Trust me, it is there, even if it’s latent.

I give a lot of talks, and in them I always stress how important it is for CIO’s to understand that one of their roles is Chief Designer.  Many functions, like organization and governance, require thoughtful design, but of all, the most critical is the design of your culture.  This is the crucible in which the social chemistry of your organization crystallizes into a positive and supportive environment or, in the case of many large organizations, one that is negative and poorly suited to creativity.  There are so many emotionally numb, lifeless departments that the light bulbs of creativity are dim.  Business imitates life; companies reap what they sow.

So, it is the social environment that drives mood, sentiment, desire, and if designed right, unlocks innovation.  Therefore, innovation is an outcome – a byproduct of the culture you build.  Here is a list of design fundamentals that will help you unlock the collective creativity of your organization:

  • Start with professionals who work creatively. As noted above, everyone has some degree of creativity and imagination, but there are people who are extraordinarily creative.  These folks have pursued creative outlets on their own, overcoming the negative effects of our educational system.  As a leader, hiring some talent with a creative/innovative track record should be one of your goals.  That said, if you have a large organization, you already have a lot of creative potential waiting to be used.
  • Research has shown that an upbeat, positive environment helps the creative juices flow. What is the mood in your area?
  • Stress and fear cause individuals to engage in protective behaviors in order to survive. For creativity, this is suboptimal.  Fear stimulates the brain’s limbic system (your threat sensor), which cuts off higher order cognitive processes to focus all energy on survival tactics.  I don’t recall any great inventions conceived by someone fleeing danger.
  • Provide an environment that offers think time.  Albert Einstein took long walks so that he had time alone to think and refine his theories.  More evidence can be found when you study breakthroughs, like the invention of the semiconductor, where Jack Kilby was nearly alone at work, with lots of time to think, when he realized silicon was the solution.
  • The enthusiasm and creative energy people have when they do what they love, has great innovative value.  Let people shape their roles.
  • Mix people with different points of view and thinking styles, a la Myers-Briggs, to unleash creative abrasion, a well-documented method of stimulating group creativity.
  • Nurture deep and intimate institutional experience amongst your staff.   Steve Jobs said, “Creativity is just connecting things”.  Deep experience provides a large number of threads of knowledge to interconnect, driving innovation.  Unfortunately, most companies haven’t understood the value of intimate experience, and have exchanged professionals with abundant institutional experience for commodity labor with none!
  • You get what you ask for. Encourage people to be creative, reward it, and be a good audience.
  • Encourage openness.  Einstein said, “The important thing is to not stop questioning.”  If you don’t have a culture where people are comfortable speaking up, the important questions will never be asked.
  • Social relationships/networks drive innovation. Great explosions of creativity throughout history have come in clusters, so people clearly feed on the knowledge and passion of others. The more creative your teams, the greater the likelihood it will be expressed.
  • Build a blame free culture. Innovation is often about trying and failing. If failure becomes blame, then you have an innovation short-circuit.
  • Laughter and humor are a great aid to creativity and therefore innovation. Encourage people to have fun. You will get more creativity and a lot more productivity too.

Lastly, don’t try to quantify the value of each driver.  Build the right culture, and innovation will come.  At that point, almost anything can happen.  Imagine that.

Just imagine what you/your team/your organization can accomplish if you build the right culture, encourage creativity, and reward it.  How much untapped potential lies in wait?  How much can you increase your return on human capital?  The upside is almost limitless.  Just look at leaders like Google. It’s enormous, and this is just one human factor of productivity.

Coming up on Monday May 19th at 1:00pm, Haydle will sponsor a Webinar with CIO, author, and speaker Frank Wander of PeopleProductive. Frank has been a thought leader on the transformation of IT culture. In the re-post above he provides a compelling examination of how establishing a creative culture can deliver the business results that companies are seeking. It can also deliver the rewarding work environment that the most capable employees demand.

This balance is key to Frank’s approach, one that he’s used as a turnaround specialist in organizations like Guardian Insurance. It’s also the approach that we at Haydle try enable through our Q&A product. Anyone who’s interested in the future of successful IT management should read the post below and take to opportunity to interact with Frank Wander live during the webinar.

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