5 Ways Leaders Can Cultivate a Culture of Innovation to Shine in Today's Market

by Melany Gallant | Posted | Leadership

5 Ways Leaders Can Cultivate a Culture of Innovation to Shine in Today\'s Market

With the rapid rate of innovation, ideas have become more valuable than ever. In an age where anything is possible, the companies with the best ideas have the ability to create, improve and adapt to rapid change. This is what distinguishes the leaders from the followers.

Smart business leaders know this - as demonstrated by the IBM 2010 Global CEO Study where CEO's selected creativity as the most crucial factor for future [business] success.

When a company, organization or department cultivates a culture of innovation, bright minds are given the tools to generate and organize ideas, make them useful and take action.

Therefore, fostering an innovative workplace is a fundamental role of leadership and Human Resources.

What does it really take to cultivate a culture of innovation? We looked for answers in influential quotes about creativity and innovation imparted by great leaders and thinkers through time.

Does your organization abide by these words of wisdom?

"There's a way to do it better-find it."

- Thomas Edison

If the world were perfect, innovation wouldn't exist. Luckily for innovation, the world is pretty flawed. There's no panacea business model. No product that will never need upgrading or a total transformation.

Change has to be embraced as part of the natural order of a work system. 3M, one of the pioneers of the innovative work culture, gives their employees 15 percent time to explore and hatch out ideas. After all, it was by allowing one of their scientists to tinker with a side project back in 1974 that led to the creation of one of their best-selling products, the post-it note.

When an improvement can be made, the instinct should be to do it.


"The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas."

- Dr. Linus Pauling

The innovative workplace runs on ideas. Leadership's role is to fuel the creative engine by encouraging members to think, try and do.

This means:

  • Possessing the right people
  • Providing access to knowledge
  • Providing a place to collaborate new ideas
  • Proving the tools needed to execute ideas

For ideas to be useful there should be a clear channel in place to track, organize and make them come true. If fostering an innovative workplace is important to your organization's success, consider incorporating it as a core competency for all employees.


"The greatest innovations often come from challenging industry convention."

- Freek Vermeulen

As mentioned above, that IBM 2010 Global CEO Study shows that "leaders rank creativity as the No. 1 leadership attribute needed for prosperity".

Notably, their biggest challenge is setting up a working creative system.

Leaders might shy away from implementing an innovation-centric work culture because they believe:

  • That success has been attained
  • That there is no need for improvement
  • That the customer knows best

Great innovators defy the common notions of success, challenging the customer and the bottom line. Had Apple listened to customer feedback, the iPad might never have been invented. Customers don't see a value or need until a new product succeeds at defining a new need.

Leaders can jumpstart innovation by identifying and developing their top talent and giving them the ability to think and act creatively.


"When all think alike, no one is thinking."

- Walter Lippman

Many organizations lack a systematic approach to building a culture of innovation.

A business culture in which autonomy, ownership and recognition are nurtured maximizes the rate of creative output by the organization's members.

Autonomy can only be established when workers have the tools, resources and information they need to prioritize their tasks, track their performance and build on ideas.

A sense of ownership only comes when employees clearly understand what is expected of them and what their value is to the organization's overall mission. This is where ongoing coaching and feedack discussions between managers and employees can help.

Tony Schwartz, president and CEO of The Energy Project says, "Look for small ways to give employees, at every level, the opportunity and encouragement to follow their interests and express their unique talents."

How do leaders disseminate autonomy and ownership into the organizational "idea engine"? By giving employees recognition. Listening to ideas gets you to first base; having a process for making them happen, hits homeruns!


"The essential part of creativity is not being afraid to fail."

- Edwin H. Land

Should innovation cease when a certain product, service or process is doing the job "just fine"? Pursuing great dreams means challenging the status quo and not being afraid to fail. Failure can be brilliant.

Turmoil is key to an organization's survival. A Forbes article notes how leading brands like Atari and Digital couldn't sustain their success because they were unable to branch out from the initial idea that made them successful.

The more experience an organization acquires in fostering curiosity- the less likely they are to wind up in innovative standstill.

In an environment that not only allows for idea sharing but also for idea execution, creativity and innovation have a fertile soil to grow on.


Planting the Seeds of Innovation

If you look at the world's top performing organizations, variety is a key factor to success. Philips offers products ranging from televisions, phones to healthcare supplies. Google is a search engine, but they also develop technology for cars and televisions.

There are three patterns exhibited by companies that outshine the rest:

  • The creative minds within the organization are rewarded for contributing new ideas
  • There is a clear process for tracking, organizing and executing ideas
  • Failure is seen as part of the creative process

While leaders must serve as a catalyst to pursuing brilliant ideas, HR needs to facilitate the system through which it is executed. In essence - HR needs to provide the right tools to help people work flexibly and collaborate effectively.

We have a great resource we think can help: check out 5 Ways to Get Managers on Board with Talent Management.

Then let us know in the comments section below how your organization fosters and supports a culture of innovation.

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