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Thought Leadership 08 August 2016

For innovation to flourish it needs to grow from the inside out

Often business trends seem to come and go, from crowdfunding to mentoring, from gamification to standing desks, but there’s one big issue that never seems to fade away: innovation.

Innovation isn’t just a buzz-word. If you get it right and create a company which is truly creative in how it addresses its challenges, the rewards can be great. In fact, over three years innovative companies are likely to generate somewhere between 6-14% higher shareholder return premiums than their less innovative competitors.

So we’re agreed that innovation is critical to business success. And if you look around the business landscape you’ll see that companies are also working to create a culture of agility and innovation in a myriad of ways. For example, investing in technology that will expand the limits of what is possible, changing role profiles to embed innovation into the DNA of the workforce, realigning processes to remove the old boundaries and encourage new ones to spring up in their place, and putting checks and balances in place which allow innovation to be measured – seems counterintuitive, I know.

Start with your people

While I’ve no doubt that some of these shifts will unlock some pockets of innovation, the much bigger shift here is a cultural one – and for that, you have to start with your people. The Insights purpose is to create a world where everyone understands themselves and others, and is inspired to make a positive difference in everything they do. So when we say that embedding a culture of innovation starts with your people, we really mean it. We really live it, too.

There can be no substantive change without employees first gaining real self-awareness. Once everyone gains a strong understanding of who they are, how they prefer to work, and crucially, how they might approach innovation, we then take that understanding and move it into the team space.

In a drive towards an innovative culture, the goal is to create teams in which the most unlikely, seemingly-crazy ideas can be floated, without fear of judgement or censure. A culture where team members grab and idea and commit to building on it together by saying ‘Yes, and …’ instead of ‘No, because …’

Collective intelligence

To do this, we help teams asses what their ‘norms’ are; what are the unwritten rules and standards for the group’s behaviour. Perhaps the team is collectively open to sharing personal information, or uses humour to bypass confrontation, or is task-focused with a formal agenda, or has a strong leader, or a fluid structure. Norms can be a wide variety of conventions and habits; however a study by psychologists from M.I.T., Carnegie Mellon and Union College recognised that ““The right norms … could raise a group’s collective intelligence, whereas the wrong norms could hobble a team”.

In recognising that, we’ll begin to look at how those norms came to be, and whether they have buy-in from the team. Do the norms you all adhere to actually work for your team? Does the team create an atmosphere of psychological safety in which all participants feel free to be open and honest? We’ll look at strategies which will put into place new norms, agreed on and shared by the whole team, which will allow creativity and openness to flourish.

Change from the inside-out

Our approach helps organisations unlock innovation precisely because we don’t try to make large cultural shifts by making wholesale changes, i.e. how the business is structured, or buying in innovation assessment tools. We focus on what’s at the heart of your culture, and that is always, no matter your business challenge, the people at the centre of your business.

By instigating change right at the core of your business, people own the shift right from the start. That way, they’re empowered to be innovative, encouraged to promote the norms of their successful teams around the organisation and can take ownership of their own commitment to innovation from day one.

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