In the culture of innovation, leadership is key

I've often blogged about innovation here as it related to using the technology we work in to innovate. Now I want to take a different tack and look at the culture of innovation in a broad scope and share some of my thoughts and experiences.

I've often blogged about innovation here as it related to using the technology we work in to innovate. Now I want to take a different tack and look at the culture of innovation in a broad scope and share some of my thoughts and experiences.

In all of the reading I've done and my work inside some of the biggest companies in the world, I've learned a lot on the subject of making innovation work and the one thing that it comes down to is the culture and leadership of the company. Culture has many components, but I think one of the most important is the leadership of the company. Your CEO has significant impact on the innovation culture that grows (or doesn't grow) in your company. The CEO of your company is the key role player in making innovation part of the company culture. Just talking about it and putting the strategy and systems in place is not nearly enough which I see a lot of C-level executives doing. One of the best books I've read around the culture of innovation is The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley. Tom and his brother David Kelley run IDEO, one of the leading industrial design firms in the world. This company is the apitomy of innovative culture right up there with the folks at Apple. David Kelly did an interview back in 2003 with the Harvard Business Review where he said, "some companies seem more comfortable going through the methodological motions than making the cultural commitments that ongoing innovation demands." CEOs have to work on and in the innovation culture.

It's always very interesting to look around companies and see what kind of innovative culture they have. Some of the companies that I've been to have had the technology folks in charge of innovation, but the business folks managing the process. This is the stage-gate process. They I've seen where the business side is in charge of the innovation and they invite IT to the table with the goal of achieving this sense of collaboration. Here is where the leadership of the CEO has to be intimately involved. For innovation to work both functions have to be managed together. One great example that I can think of is Steve Jobs. Here is a guy that is clearly the innovation leader in his company and he pushes very hard to make sure that business and technology have effective collaboration.

I can tell you that an innovative culture has to be both conservative and risk-taker at the same time. The conservative side makes sure that all employees are keenly aware of the importance of the resources that they are entrusted with. That means that every investment and expense has to be looked at from an ROI perspective. I can tell you from experience that a culture of unquestioned spending, where there is little regard for the value of the resources will lead to disaster and a company that fails at innovation.

The timing of this post and an article at CIO.com is very serendipitous. Today Diann Daniel posted a story on Microsoft's Culture of Innovation: An Interview with CIO Tony Scott This is a great read on how Mr Scott manages innovation. They too have to balance to two factors of control and trust (or as this story puts it "freedom and control"). Control has to make informed decisions around resource allocation, strategy development, and performance evaluation. The trust/freedom part usually happens outside the view of C-level executives and I can see that Mr Scott can manage this innovation well enough to not kill off ideas. Take a quick read.

So what is the innovation culture like at your company? Do you work in an environment where innovation (of any kind) is encouraged? Do you feel that there is no innovative collaboration between business and IT?

Let me know your thoughts.

 

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