Innovation Culture

Day 37 Week 6 Q1  Monday, February 6, 2023

What is an innovation culture? It is a place where innovation is highly prized, supported and pursued. Having worked at Bose, Apple and DARPA and attended MIT and Juilliard, I have had the good fortune to spend many years in places where innovation was what they were all about. All these companies and institutions went out of their way to find creative outliers and do something with them. This made them outliers as organizations as well. For if you were more normal, you would not be there. 

Although these organizations are quite different, they all share a delight in pursuing new ideas, and as such, they stand out as best of class internationally. This is not accidental but what the founders had in mind. These are not places that pursued windows of opportunity. They created and still create windows of opportunity. 

If you are a creative outlier, spending time in an Innovation Culture is a delight, although it may not always seem that way, except by comparison, because they are exceedingly demanding of all present; if you ever find yourself spending a lot of time somewhere that does not value innovation.

So what is this innovation culture about? And how is it different? More importantly, why does it matter?

Innovation cultures are places that are not as risk-averse as the rest of the world. They know that in order to create something new, failure is part of the process. They do not expect everyone to always succeed on the way to their ultimate success. They do expect everyone to perform at a high level, but that does not mean never making a mistake. Perhaps never make a mistake in a final performance, but there are many preparatory steps before the curtain goes up. In fact, they are encouraging almost all the time because they know you have to crawl before you run. They expect to come up to speed fairly quickly and run, but they seem to feel they have already prequalified people before letting them in. They are the opposite of open enrollment, where everyone can enter and then have to prove themselves to stay. This is not to say everyone succeeds, just that they would not let you in if they did not think you had what it takes to do so.

It is not only giant famous institutions and companies that have innovation cultures. The companies and institutions founded by people who share these pro-innovation values also try as hard as they can to operate in this manner. All organizations have cultures based on the values of their founders. In fact, when the founders are n longer present unless terrific succession planning has already taken place, there is a good chance the enterprises will falter, especially in terms of innovation. 

Before it is done, innovation can be fragile, and creators need to be protected while they are getting and metamorphosing.

The most important attribute of an innovation culture is that it is a safe place to have ideas. In fact, if you do not have ideas, it may not be a safe place for you to be. After all, that is why they exist, not to be dragged down by mediocrity or the same old stuff from the past.

By the way, you can create your own innovation culture within your mind, and in fact, need to, because unless you are firmly ensconced in an innovation culture, and they are fairly rare, then you are ogling to have to create the safe place for ideas inside of you.