Creating Culture for Innovation

Newton's Principia Mathematica
Newton’s Principia Mathematica. Photo Credit Wikimedia Commons

Culture is the set of ways of life and customs, knowledge and degree of artistic, scientific and industrial development. Culture and innovation are not synonymic words, but they are strongly linked, because the culture is simultaneously the result of many innovations and the starting point of other ones. I would define a company as innovative, if and only if it has got a created innovative culture.

If we analyze the previous definition of culture, we can find several interesting points. First of all, culture depends on people behavior, and then culture is built promoting a positive behavior for the activity. Innovation culture is mainly a matter of motivation, and a matter of destroying barriers to introduce novelties.

On the other hand, innovation culture is a matter of cultural heritage. In this case, it is a matter of the enlargement of the cultural heritage. It is a matter of increasing general knowledge, working techniques, scientific development and the development of new practical goods or services that the organization owns or makes.

An organization is not innovative because a manager writes it in a brochure. An organization is innovative because it has developed an innovation culture during several years, and it has created that heritage of knowledge, organizational experience, scientific development and novel goods and/or services with industrial application.

An innovation project can be the result of spending a lot of money; however, innovation culture is not a matter of spending money. It is more related to other things as compromise with the long term, promotion of creativity, flexible working procedures, assumption of risks, sharing ideas, merit acknowledgement, and so on.

We usually think that newborn companies are mostly innovative, and old companies are not. This is not correct. Newborn companies can be innovative easily because the customs of the workers and the working procedures can be modelled easily, however, they has not usually got a created cultural heritage unless the staff has been selected to provide it as in a technical start-up. Newborn companies only can be considered innovative, if their staff has accumulated previously a wide set of knowledge and experiences. A single innovation does not provide innovation culture.

Old companies can have an extremely wide cultural heritage, however, they are affected by complexity. The larger the company, the higher the complexity to manage it effectively. Large companies are very complex, and the only way to manage them effectively is reducing that complexity through different control mechanisms. An aim of a control mechanism is to preserve a repetitive behavior of the organization. This is the role of standards and procedures. Old companies are managed through some kind of bureaucracy with the aim of reducing the behavioral uncertainty of the staff. This is a problem for innovation because innovation requires the promotion of creativity and the acceptance of the different thinking as a possible source of value. In large companies innovation culture is really a matter of motivation, and a matter of elimination of barriers.

In order to create an innovation culture in a large company, the innovation manager must fight in several fronts, for instance:

  • He must balance the degree of rigidity of the working procedures with some kind of freedom for the workers to test and propose different ideas and solutions, and provide some kind of support and acknowledgement for innovation prone people.
  • He must establish some mechanisms to share knowledge and experiences in order that creative people can take advantage of the cultural heritage of the company.

Those issues are well known by innovation managers; however, I would propose the use of the complexity management approach in order to avoid an increase of complexity of the company with our actions.

For instance, to have more flexible working procedures is very different to have no procedures at all. The former one is trying some kind of complexity management; the latter one is to fall into chaos. In the same way, how we design the way that people can share knowledge and experiences can have a strong influence on the global complexity of the company.

At last but not least, it is very important to notice that innovation culture may not be mainly a matter of money, but complexity management is. Undesired complexity can produce a lot of wasted time and money that could be used, for instance, to compensate the creative workers for their good and innovative ideas.


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