How to Create a Culture of Innovation

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BulbEvery CEO from Connecticut to California urges their team to “think innovatively,” yet few companies go the extra step to offer specific programs that create cultures of creativity.

Often, the burden of promoting innovation falls onto the human resources department, as if innovation were some kind of magical process that could be initiated via a seminar or two.

Of course, that isn’t the case. To create a culture of innovation, organizations must actively strive to do so. They cannot stumble their ways into creativity.

Creativity, after all, is a conscious choice.

What Makes Someone Creative?

In a piece entitled “Creative Culture: Thinking Outside the Dodechaedron,”  director of Ideas Accelerator Ltd. Louise Webster writes that “the only difference between a person that is creative and one that isn’t is that the creative people believe they are creative.” As Websiter points out, creativity is, in essence, a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you think are are creative, then you will act like a creative person.

Creative or innovative people think differently; they visualize concepts in ways that are unlike the visualizations of others around them. They are bold in presenting their ideas, regardless of whether they are CEOs or front-desk receptionists. Creative people look at recurring problems and puzzle out solutions. They do not believe that because something has been done a certain way for a long time, that is the best way to do it. They are open and willing to challenge the status quo.

Following the logic that creativity is a conscious choice, Webster believes that innovation can be taught. This is an intriguing idea for the human resources personnel charged with fostering innovation. If innovation can be taught, then creating a culture of innovation only requites that we implement the proper educational programs.

3 Steps Toward Creating a Culture of Innovation

If your organization wants to promote innovation and creativity, it would do well to follow these tips:

Doors1. Empower Workers to Express Their Opinions

Executives often say they want people to speak up — and yet, when people do speak up, they are often ridiculed, ignored, or quickly put in their places.

The very first and most essential step in creating a culture of innovation is for leadership and management to learn to be respectful of what employees contribute to discussions in the workplace. Leaders and managers must listen attentively and perhaps even take notes on employees’ ideas.

When an employee does share an idea, leaders and managers should be sure to respond to that employee, either via email or in person. They should thank the employee for their willingness to share their idea, and they should help arrange the next steps required for pursuing that idea  — if, of course, the idea warrants pursuing. If the idea does not warrant pursuing, it is still crucial for leaders and managers to thank the employee and encourage them to continue sharing their thoughts.

If leaders and managers routinely engage positively with employees who speak up, other employee will learn that the company values their thoughts, and they will begin to speak up, too.

2. Present an Innovation Management Program to Top Leaders and Managers in the Firm

Of course, creating a culture of innovation requires more than just lip service. Even if leaders and managers listen to employees and encourage them to share ideas, nothing will come of this sharing if there is no process for managing these ideas.

It is up to the HR department — or whomever is in charge of heading up efforts to create a culture of innovation — to create an innovation management program and present it to leaders and managers. This innovation management program should plot the processes that any idea will follow in order to move from the realm of theory to the realm of actual implementation.

3. Indicate That the Price of Failure Is Learning, Not Dismissal

FailImagine an employee comes forth and presents a good idea. They win support from management and leadership to try the idea out. Unfortunately, the implementation of the idea fails. What does the employee win for taking a necessary risk? Dismissal, or, at best, a demotion.

If this is how your company tends to handle failure, don’t expect employees to want to share their innovative or creative ideas. Innovation and creativity requires risk, and punishing employees when they take these risks and fail is a good way to ensure that no one in the company takes another risk again. The result? No creativity or innovation.

Any company looking to encourage innovation needs a risk management strategy, one that accounts for the failures that may arise from attempts at innovation. The company must treat failure as a learning opportunity, not an occasion for punishment. So the idea failed: now, it’s time to figure out why it failed and what everyone can learn going forward.

Creativity comes in all forms and is essential for the growth of your company — no matter the industry in which the company operates. Fostering creativity among employees will be beneficial to not only your company’s overall success, but also your employees’ satisfaction and engagement.

By Roz Bahrami