In the Moment

Innovation Culture  —  The elephant in the room

Simon Mhanna

When The Moment began in 2011, a lot of innovation efforts within organizations were department level projects, requiring small scale change and capability building. Now, as innovation becomes more of a broad priority across an organization, it no longer makes sense to delegate it only to specific departments. There is a growing demand for Innovation Leaders and Innovation Designers to bring their full teams into the innovation space, codify innovation capabilities and upskill colleagues in other functions.

This shift towards democratizing innovation signals both opportunities and challenges. One of the biggest challenges is fostering innovation culture across the organization. Why innovation culture? Simply because fostering a culture that enables innovation is essential to drive the organization forward. If you are going to create “the new”, you’ll need some new behaviours, activities, and infrastructure to support it. All this adds up to innovation culture. Innovation goes beyond breakthrough ideas; other factors come into play in a dynamic innovation culture which allow innovation to happen and most importantly to be sustained.

Innovation culture within an organization is not a new system or a new stage in itself. It rests on the amalgamation, combination and manifestation of all that preceded it. This is where the challenge arises. Culture is complex. Innovation is complex. Organizations are complex. When it comes to re-wiring organizational culture to integrate or amplify innovation capacity one needs to bring out the big guns. Complex problems require system-level solutions. And this is no small endeavour.

Organizations with innovation mandates often focus on project delivery. Some introduce artefacts, some facilitate training to institute innovation thinking, some go further to implement infrastructures and technologies that enable some aspects of innovation work. Very few tackle culture. What’s behind this? Is it an oversight or an intentional decision? Perhaps we don’t want to tackle what we can’t understand or quantify?

Does culture always have to be the elephant in the room?

Make no mistake: when we do not address the entire cultural aspect of innovation we introduce a tonne of risk to our innovation effort. Cultural blind spots, unarticulated knowledge of our own organizational cultural behaviour and practices, will, if ignored or unexplored, will come back to bite you. Cultures are powerful creators of great things, and blind destroyers of things that don’t “fit”.

The tendency to reduce innovation to specific interactions of its cultural parts, or to more fundamental aspects, may not help organizations understand the intricate patterns of beliefs and behaviours that drive or hold innovation efforts. Additionally, a reductionist approach to understanding the complex nature of your culture may not serve your organization well. The idea of Reductionism was first introduced by Descartes in his “Discourses”, where he argued that the world is a machine with pieces like clockwork mechanisms. The machine could be understood by taking its pieces apart, studying them, and then putting them back together to see the larger picture. As much as we would love to see our organizational culture working as a clock, it isn’t. If isolated, a specific cultural aspect may be misleading or simply irrelevant. We need to have a holistic view in order to identify the blind spots and address them. One bad apple spoils the barrel.

At The Moment, we believe that culture is essential for organizational innovation efforts. In fact, innovation culture is the underpinning of all of the work we do with our clients. To support that, we have developed the Culture Scan, a tool for cultural diagnosis and intervention.

What do we mean by culture? Culture is made up of the factors and conditions that enable innovation work. Simply put: “the way we do things around here” will either help or hinder your innovation work, so it’s best if you know which it is. We call these factors and conditions the Cultural Elements and we group them under six main segments that are interdependent and interrelated.

Behaviours and Dynamics
Culture by its nature is a social contract that promotes and reinforces desired behaviours and upholds the wanted practices of the pack. Behaviours and Dynamics determine how we show up as a collective.

Activities and Values
Activities and Values are the principles that bring us together, determine how we spend our time and effort, and enable us, as an organization, to accelerate our progress and achieve our collective purpose.

Infrastructure and Structures
Infrastructure and Structures create the foundation for and support the ways in which we work and organize. Practices and policies, in addition to physical structures, powerfully shape the culture of an organization.

In our Culture Scan these cultural elements are grouped under Innovation Elements (Behaviours, Infrastructure and Activities) and Unique Elements (Values, Structures and Dynamics ). Innovation Elements are those which are essential for innovation efforts in all organizations. Unique Elements are specific to each organization, and are determined by you as you define your unique organizational flavour.

Overall, culture carries the shared experience and history of your organization. But, culture provides not only a shared view of “what is,” it can help us understand “why it is” and be a powerful shaper of “what will be”. This notion of “what will be” is important, as it is critical to understand that culture is a dynamic organism that is constantly evolving.

Investing in understanding and visualizing both your lived and desired culture will be your crucial next step toward discovering opportunities for change, building actions to activate that change, and unleashing your organizational potential.

Take that next step and download our guide to use the Culture Scan with your team.

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