posted 1 Oct 2007 in Volume 11 Issue 2
The building blocks of innovation environment
WHAT DOES an innovative environment look and feel like? To be more specific – which characteristics turn an ordinary organisational environment into one that enables innovation to flourish? When I was involved in projects aimed at enhancing the innovation capabilities of organisations, I visited many innovative places around the world. Gradually, a pattern emerged and I started to identify some repeating themes, success factors, and principles. These I grouped into 12 conceptual building blocks for an ‘innovative environment’.
Time: new ideas require exploration before their value can be demonstrated to others. People need to be given the freedom to use some of their time to explore ideas fully.
Physical space: in an economy based on innovation, the creation of creative space within an organisation can significantly contribute to the atmosphere of the company and thereby encourage the development of ideas.
Tolerance of risk: organisations should promote risk taking. Innovation requires learning new things, experimentation, and pushing the boundaries of the unknown.
Strategy: in an innovative environment, the vision and strategic intent of the organisation is clearly communicated to all employees. This joins all creative forces and energies and directs them towards the strategic benefit of the organisation.
Virtual space: organisations with limited space or wide-ranging office locations should consider that spaces for knowledge creation can also take a virtual form.
Structured and spontaneous processes: serendipity is key to recurring innovation, but cannot be ordered on demand. Companies must accept and prepare for the possibility that surprises can occur.
Knowledge management: management of existing knowledge provides a solid foundation for the creation of new knowledge.
Financial capital: serious innovation requires significant investment in translating brilliant ideas into viable products and services. Organisations should allocate considerable resources to the various innovation phases.
Diversity: Similar people will generate similar ideas. Diversity in all aspects of the workforce needs to be increased – for example, in experiences, age, and in cultural or academic backgrounds – to provide multiple perspectives.
Attention to the future: in a turbulent environment, there is continuous tension between the day-to-day challenges, and the need to focus on the future. The top priority should be the future.
Challenge: open-ended, non-structured tasks engender higher creativity than narrow jobs. Most people respond positively when they are challenged.
Leadership: inspiring leaders are key. They trigger, protect, support, challenge and help to focus the creative capabilities their teams.
Further reflection on the building blocks shows that they all enable, encourage and catalyse conversations that can trigger innovation and make it happen.