How Do You Ensure Your Culture Keeps Driving Innovation?

Organizations don’t resemble their early years as they become successful and establish themselves. They shift from playing to win to a playing not to lose mindset. The organization matures and puts more effort into short-term thinking and maintaining the status-quo; they put more focus on protecting and maintaining what they have.

Innovation is a code word for innovation. And the real leadership challenge is never settling when everything is going right; acting as if you haven’t achieved anything.

With that said, once you’ve established a culture of innovation, how do you maintain and ensure that it remains healthy and keeps driving innovation?

Once you’ve established a company culture, how do you maintain in and ensure that it remains healthy/keeps encouraging #innovation?

— Innovation Brief (@InnovationBrief) August 16, 2018

My answer: don’t settle.

It’s a simple answer, let me unpack it. First, let’s define culture. I see culture as an environment where people can be the best version of themselves everyday, and are held to those standards. A more academic definition of culture are the shared beliefs and behaviors a group has and how they act. Another way of looking at culture is this: what you celebrate and what you don’t tolerate.

With that said, let’s ask ourselves one question: how would we impede the habits that drive innovation?

Innovation is addition by subtraction

Just like every hero has an enemy, so does innovation. There are many enemies, fear of failure and loss are the main culprits that drive complacency and hubris. As stated previously, these are born when success happens and people focus on maintaining the status quo than on exploring the next revolution.

The table below is a good way to visualize and compare a status quo culture versus an innovation culture:

The beliefs and habits you develop should drive your culture, they should be celebrated along with creating an environment where people can challenge the status quo; and environment where non-conformity thrives.

To put innovation into practice an organization needs to have 3 things in place: purpose, people and processes.

The first thing to break when success happens is freedom, which is related to more and more processes; more sign offs to do things and less autonomy and empowerment. The second thing to break is spirit, which is related to how you hire; companies hire for fit, not for contribution.

The difference between companies that can transform themselves and those that don’t is they’ve created mechanisms to continually seek out and kill enemies. Ed Catmull, co-founder and CEO of Pixar, calls them hidden forces. These forces are internal, they’re all driven by human nature to conform and stay in ones comfort zone.

No one is immune to them, and we have to actively fight them. There are many ways to approach this challenge. For example, on a previous venture, along with being the head of the business, I designated myself the”Chief Error Generating Officer“. This means it was my job to be a trouble maker, to keep people on their heels. I developed mechanisms so people would continuously be challenged, I didn’t want anybody believing we made it.

Stagnation is the consequence of defending rather than exploring

Creating a culture is hard. If you don’t set out to define and create your culture, it will create itself. Leaders have to understand that there are hidden forces at play that will eventually derail it; it’s human nature.

For example, many companies, though their numbers may not indicate it, are stagnant. They are driving in the same lane, staying safe. But doing so guarantees one thing: missing the future.

Leaders have to protect the future, not the present, by creating mechanisms that force the organization to always stray just enough from their comfort zone. Managing is about the now, leading is about tomorrow. Organizations become complacent when they manage for the now and stop leading for tomorrow. It’s why I’ve said before that leadership and priorities determine an organization’s capacity for innovation; not how much money they have in the bank.

Bottom line:Change is constant, and leaders have to create internal mechanisms to fight ones need for stability and comfort; human nature.