What is it, really?
Every organisation seems to be talking about “innovation culture” – or “innovative culture” – and how to build one these days. It also seems like there exist many different definitions of what an “innovation culture” means.
To Amazon, it means an obsession on customers rather than competitor focus, and they hire builders and pioneers with a willingness to fail. To Google, innovation culture means a ruleset, in which we find rules such as “Think 10x”, “Use the 70/20/10 model” and again, “Focus on users, not the competitors”.
However, how have these rules been built and integrated into the daily activities of Amazon and Google? Is it possible only for tech companies and not others? How can established companies build a strong innovation culture?
Billions of dollars of investments have been spent on internal incubators, innovation fab labs and internal venture capital to foster innovations in big groups, yet the results are rather moderate.
Can established companies go past the hypes around these post-its, fab labs and sprint, in order to build an innovation culture that fosters actual breakthroughs for their business?
Start with the definition
Let’s begin with the definition of innovation culture itself.
For Stim, innovation is an art of transforming objects. The object could be a product, a service, or a process etc. Culture in business, on the other hand, refers to the beliefs, behaviours, and attitudes that determine how a company’s employees and management interact with a given issue.
Innovation culture, therefore, is a set of behaviours, norms and attitudes that drive innovation – or to be precise, drive the activity of transforming objects.
Consequently, to build an innovation culture is to define and shape a set of desirable behaviours, beliefs and attitudes within the company that foster innovations instead of hindering them.
So, what is so hard about defining and shaping these desirable behaviours?
The juggling between Exploitation and Exploration
In general, there exist two types of activities in a company: Exploitation and Exploration.
The daily and business-as-usual, Exploitation, aims to design, deliver and improve the current offers and sell it in the most efficient way possible. Oftentimes, companies are organised around this activity. It means that rules and behaviours are set up to assure that they optimize the current assets to deliver the offers that generate the most margin.
On the contrary, innovation often lies in the category of Exploration activities, whose focus is to transform current assets or acquire new assets to build the offers of tomorrow.
It is hard for companies to juggle between these two seemingly opposing activities and make them cohabit efficiently within their structure. More often than not, Exploitation triumph over Exploration, mostly because the latter bears a multitude of uncertainties around the ROI, a new organizational model, new technical skills and methods to acquire etc.
Even if the willingness is there, it is difficult for companies to even start building an innovation culture as they are tuned in an Exploitation machine, constantly in search of immediate ROI.
Manage innovation with disciplines and methods
Innovation cultures are not all about creativity workshops and well-designed fab labs. Even though the entrepreneurial spirit and an agile organisation are elements of a strong innovative culture, they must be integrated into the established set of corporate behaviours and processes.
This has been proven true throughout our mission with Société Générale and Internal Startup Call the biggest intrapreneurial program in France and in Europe to date.
The ambition of the program is not only to create the business of tomorrow but above all, to transform the way of working within the Group to accelerate projects. Because many organizational and institutional barriers that hinder innovation will reveal themselves in a program of more than 140 000 people, across different departments and different hierarchies.
With that ambition, the involvement of the top managers is essential. We, therefore, embarked 64 members of COMEX for a series of weekly meetings. The goal was to ensure a short feedback loop and leverage learnings effectively, as well as to build up “rituals” – which eventually will become a set of corporate processes and practices.
A thriving innovation culture requires a mix of seemingly contradictory behaviours. Companies must allow experiments to happen, yet must build rigorous disciplines to harvest the most of those experiments.
To successfully build a strong innovation culture, companies must begin with clarity on the innovation ambition and determine a set of disciplines across different departments and hierarchies. The benefits of this clarity are twofold: collaborators will not be confused about the leadership’s intentions and the top managers will not be unsatisfied with the projects’ outcome.