Why a Culture of Innovation is the Only Path to Sustainable Growth and Success

You’ve fine-tuned your processes, extracted every drop of cost from the system, and are meeting basic customer needs. In the previous era of business, strict managerial controls may have been enough, but today running a tight ship is table stakes. If we’re honest with ourselves, business as usual likely poses an existential threat – sooner than we may think, as the pace of change continues to accelerate.

Relying on a current product, market, cost, or distribution advantage is also a fool’s bet. As competitors level up, your current foothold could soon be tomorrow’s commodity. If we’re not pushing our creative boundaries as standard practice, we run the risk of ceding competitive advantage and losing ground.

The one way to lock in sustainable competitive advantage is to cultivate company-wide innovation. If you have 11,000 employees, you have 11,000 innovators if you create a structure that supports their imagination. The same size team with only six senior leaders given permission to deploy creativity could be a fast sinking ship.

While every innovative culture has their own unique nuances, there are a few common beliefs that are mission critical to building a culture of innovation:

  1. Let go of the past in favor of the possible.
    Realizing that yesterday’s solutions are unlikely to serve the needs of tomorrow’s customers, innovative cultures regularly release past successes in order to seize new ones.
  2. Ideas are celebrated, not shunned.
    Fear is the single biggest blocker of creativity. It’s impossible to fully harness creativity if fear permeates the culture. Instead, environments that worship all ideas – realizing that it takes many bad ones to get to each good one – are the ones that drive profound and sustainable results.
  3. Experiments and artistry are part of the job.
    All organizations issue employees a list of core job responsibilities. But the innovative organizations realize that transactional work is only one part of the job. Inventing the future, discovering fresh approaches, and deploying creative artistry also must be required job responsibilities in order to win with consistency.
  4. The status quo is not a status symbol.
    If anything, refusing to change should be a scarlet letter. The ones who receive promotions and lead the company should be those with bold ideas and provocative thinking that challenges assumptions to seize new opportunities.
  5. A deep obsession with better serving customers in fresh, new ways.
    Squeezing an extra .03% operating margin per unit is fine, but it doesn’t do much to lock in a bright future. In the same way the founders of your company discovered a new and better way to meet customer needs, we must obsess over delivering more value in new, surprising, and unexpected ways.

As leaders, we have a choice. If we stomp out divergent thinking and maximize today’s profits, we seal our fate that our best days are already behind us. Or… we prioritize the building, nurturing, and growing of an innovation culture. When we remove fear and liberate the creative minds of every person on the team, we become unstoppable.

Read More

New Thinking for the New Era of Business

Albert Einstein famously noted, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that we used when we created them.” In our post-COVID world of ...

When an Astronaut Needs a Pen

Ever get stuck on a problem, only to realize you're solving for the wrong thing? That's exactly what happened when the rocket scientists at NASA ...

How Shake Shack Drives Innovation

Do you prefer the crispy mozzarella, tempura watercress, and black garlic mayonnaise cheeseburger or the pumpkin mustard, bacon, cranberries, and sage hot dog? For something ...

Lady Gaga’s Secret to Creativity

Just before she won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, I watched Lady Gaga dazzle the live audience with a pitch perfect performance of ...

Creativity: Does Size Matter?

For some reason, we’ve been taught that for creativity and innovation to count they need to have a magnitude the size of the 1989 San ...

The Lexicon of Creativity

There’s more confusion around the meaning of the word innovation than the chaos at the airline ticket counter after a cancelled flight. Is there a difference between ...

The Brain Science of Becoming More Creative

When we hear stories about iconic leaders like Salesforce.com’s founder Marc Benioff, or widely celebrated virtuosos like Lin-Manuel Miranda for that matter, we immediately think ...

Correct the Overcorrect

When the misguided leaders at Enron, Tyco and Worldcom committed fraud and marred their shareholders with huge losses, the Securities and Exchange Commission rightfully swooped ...

Learning to Color

Fact: Creativity has become the most needed skill in business. It’s gone from a nice-to-have to becoming mission-critical. Fact: Creativity is a learnable skill. All humans have ...