There’s a lot of information describing organizations that have succeeded in creating innovative climates and cultures—perhaps the best known being Google’s and Lego’s—and they share qualities and characteristics that have been clearly identified. We’ll try to help you understand them—maybe even well enough to create a culture of innovation at the organization you serve. Here goes…
Innovation is like evolution, it changes things. And those who innovate bring change to our work, our cultures, our lives, and our futures. Let’s go out on a limb here for a minute and decide change is something we want. How do we create a culture that fosters innovation and encourages innovators? Can we deliberately set about to do that? Can we succeed in discovering new ideas and unexplored pathways, or will change disrupt the status quo? The answer to all of these questions is: yes! And therein lies the potential for some honest talk, a bit of risk taking, the need for trust and support, probably some conflict, maybe even some breakage, and all the good that can come from it.
At our 2023 Annual Symposium for experiential/adventure educators, High 5 Edge of Leadership teammates Sam Copland, Ryan McCormick, and Chris Sanchez led a workshop on the characteristics, climate, conditions, and general care and feeding of innovative organizations. Their presentation, Bad Ideas Can Only Get Better, addressed innovation by asking people to go out on a limb and create a game. Equipped with spartan supplies, a pen and 2 note cards, participants were asked to write a noun on one card and an adjective on another. Then they set off to mingle with others until they found a combination of words that would transform into a fun game such as Quaint Rocking Chair (a work in progress below). The creation of the game provided an opportunity to experience innovative thinking compressed into a 90-minute session.
To shape an innovative culture and create a supportive climate, we have to make it possible for change makers to think and act outside ‘the box’ of the usual and comfortably predictable. Some bulldozing of existing company normative behavior may be necessary if a top down management structure permeates your organization. If the desire to change your culture is genuine, then an acceptable level of risk-taking will be necessary, but only after a round of open conversations has allowed everyone to express their concerns. Here’s a framework to guide those conversations…
It’s hard to make a transition in organizational culture from Whoa to Wow! without the benefit of some honest and thoughtful analysis and some experimentation. As Ashton and Giddings wisely observed, “Creativity requires constant experimentation, which implicitly involves the fear of failure. Not all creative endeavors are successful; mistakes are part of the process, and a no-fear attitude is an essential component of innovation.” Similarly, Sam, Ryan and Chris urged participants in their workshop to playfully go ahead and take risks because occasionally, Bad Ideas Can Only Get Better. The workshop illustrated a creative culture at work, or should we say at play. Your next innovative endeavor, if you choose to accept it, is to embrace the moment and think of ways a creative culture can be developed in your workplace. Try one or both of the downloadable activities above to get started with your group.
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Ashton, D. and Giddings, S. (2018) ‘At work in the toybox: bedrooms, playgrounds and ideas of play in creative cultural work’, The International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
Andriopoulos Constantine, Gotsi Mansi (2002) ‘Lessons from a Creative Culture’, Design Management Journal Vol. 13, No. 2 Invention, Innovation, and Cultural Change
Ekvall Goran (1996), ‘Organizational Climate for Creativity and Innovation’, European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology Vol. 3 (1)
Jahanzeb Shah* and Bakhtiar Ali (2012) ‘Super-leadership: An approach to maximize idea generation and creative potential for creative culture’ African Journal of Business Management Vol. 6(1