Innovation cannot be created or sustained if the company’s culture isn’t ready to receive it. You must have an innovation mindset BEFORE you try to stand up an innovation process or practice. An innovation culture is created from three traditional leadership principles that are redefined in the context of an innovation mindset.
Trust, Humility & Devotion
These are three leadership principles with which we are familiar, but their traditional meanings aren’t enough to create and sustain a culture of innovation.
Traditionally trust means “a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something” (Merriam-Webster). In the context of an innovation mindset however, particularly when it comes your leadership, it means something more.
- Your team needs to believe that they can share a wild idea without judgement, and that you will treat their ideas, no matter how much you disagree with them, with honor, dignity and respect. Remember, you’re the expert which puts you at a disadvantage when it comes to creating breakthrough ideas. Let your team speak and listen as if you know nothing about the issue or topic.
- The team also needs to believe they can bring up a need to be met or problem to be solved even if it goes against the direction you’ve established for the work. You have blind spots. Breakthroughs don’t come from blind spots. Your ideas are only as good as the sum of your experiences. Allow your team to feel safe enough to make up the difference between how you see the world and how the world could be seen.
- They need to be confident that when you ask them to develop ideas, that you or senior leadership won’t simply override them later saying, “These are great ideas. Thanks for all the hard work, but we’re actually going to do our idea instead.” How much engagement will you get from the team next time you need their help thinking of solutions? That’s leaving the best, more breakthrough ideas undiscovered because of mistrust.
We’ve all heard this one.
“Don’t take credit for what the team accomplishes”, “Put others first”, and so on.
But this is different.
Your team should be confident by your demonstrated behavior over time that you allow your thinking to be shaped by others. Yes, you are where you are because you have had the right answers, same for all of us, but that is traditional thinking. An innovation mindset places you in the position of goal setter and decision maker, not problem finder and solution creator. The ideas generated from your team will be better than yours generated by yourself. It’s not having the right answer, it’s asking the right questions; questions that stimulate the creative problem solving abilities of your team. That’s what yields the best ideas!
REPEAT AFTER ME: I know, that what we know, is more than I know.
Traditional thinking calls it commitment. Nothing wrong with commitment. We all want to be seen as a committed team player. However, the innovation mindset redefines what it means to be committed.
Commitment is being dedicated to a cause or task. In the context of the innovation mindset, it takes more than just commitment, it takes devotion.
Devotion defines the quality of the commitment.
Devotion to what? Your team needs to believe that you are fully devoted to the innovation process, that you will not circumvent steps in the name of speed or risk or reputation. The process works. Your team knows it. Deep down YOU know it. We see this often in the prototype phase. If the first prototype yields unexpected, even embarrassing results, some leaders will kill the idea to save face. But with an innovation mindset and devotion to the process, the idea would be refined again and again until it is fully formed, not killed after the first pass for underlying personal reasons.
IN THE END, an innovation culture isn’t made, or mandated. It must be modeled…by YOU. Only after consistent innovation mindset behavior is established, namely Trust, Humility and Devotion, will your organization be ready to create and sustain an innovation practice.