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2 Tips for Building a Culture of Innovation

What most people really want in their lives is homeostasis — whether we realize it or not. People want consistency and predictability. We thrive in routine and we seek familiar patters. Heck, most of us even take the same route to work everyday knowing how rotten the traffic will be. People want normalcy. Yet, if you ask most business leaders, they would say they want to embrace the unknown and build cultures of innovation.

I just finished writing a book called ‘Match in the Root Cellar: How You Can Spark A Peak Performance Culture’ and I often speak on topics of leadership and culture so I get calls from people asking me to help them build a ‘culture of innovation’.

I tell them that trying to create a culture of innovation doesn’t work. It’s a fool’s errand. Innovation is the wrong thing to chase. And if you do chase it, you certainly will not achieve it.

So, if trying to create an innovative culture doesn’t work, what will?

1. Focus on business outcomes.

Rather than chasing innovation, chase a really cool business outcome. By business outcome, I mean something that produces value in the market place and with your customers. This requires you to really understand who your customers are and how your company can solve an unmet need. But don’t expect customers to give you the next big, fully baked idea.

Instead, ask your customers about an outcome they would like — more specifically, what they would like your product or service to do for them. Maybe a real estate agent would like to get aerial images of their listings. A realtor might not suggest that drone technology could be the answer to this unmet need, but they will have a clear opinion of what could help them do their job easier and make their customers happier.

2. Set a hard date and refuse to change it.

And here is the key. Declare this outcome by a specific date and fully commit to that date. For example, declare that you and your team are going to bring the next version of your product to the market in 90 days. As the deadline gets closer people’s willingness for and capacity to create innovation goes up. Innovation is a reactive behavior to a situation where an outcome has been declared and the deadline for that outcome is fast approaching.

Innovation is not something people choose to do. Innovation is something people feel they must do — or face failure.

More generally, innovative behaviors happen when something is running out. Innovation happens when either time or money is running out and failure to deliver the outcome on time is not an option.

Remember in Apollo 13 when they only have several hours to cobble together a CO2 scrubber using a random collection of parts? That scene shows the perfect environment for innovation. Make the scrubber in a fixed amount of time or Tom Hanks dies.

If you want more innovation in your business:

  1. Focus on business outcomes and declare something noble and mighty to be built, delivered, and/or accomplished.

  2. Give a specific deadline for this outcome to be completed.
  3. Refuse to re-negotiate the deadline.
  4. Visit the team when only about 15% of the allotted time is remaining. 
  5. Witness a culture of innovation!

Don’t chase innovation. Chase a cool business outcome in a fixed allotment of time. Then you get the business outcome and you get to exist in a temporary realm of innovation.

  

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