CULTURE AWARENESS: SIMPLIFYING THE PATH TO INNOVATION

Culture informs people how to individually and collectively achieve success, and to understand what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior. As a result, it is at the core of how people come together to innovate. That being said, how does a leader assess and understand the culture of their organization enough to know what its sources of innovation are? And, how can we simplify the path and know how to get there?

These are not uncommon questions. In fact, more and more studies and ideas are focusing on how leaders and organizations can better understand how innovative they are and how they can better leverage the sources of innovation at their disposal. This is not a new phenomenon. Throughout the history of business, we have found ourselves trying to figure out how to maximize our human potential. Today, more 
than ever, companies and institutions of all 
types and sizes are concentrating on the creation of more innovative cultures.

To get a sense of the magnitude of how important innovation is perceived to be to the success of today’s organizations, one just has to look at the title of KPMG’s 2016 Global CEO survey, aptly titled “Now or Never. ” The executive summary delivers a clear message, sharing that “two-thirds of CEOs believe that the next three years will be more critical than the last fifty years. The forces creating this inflection point are the rapidly evolving technology and the speed of transformation it unleashes. In four years’ time 4 out of 10 CEOs expect to be running significantly transformed companies.

In response to the pursuit for greater innovation, the marketplace now offers a host of tools and instruments, all aimed at collecting enough data – and the right data – to tell how well the members of a team or organization are able to
 work together to be more innovative. As a result, in pursuit of innovation, we have created intricate organizations, with many moving parts, all further adding to the complexity of our lives—until we come to the place of recognizing what the great designer Dieter Rams pointed out many years ago: “less, but better.” For, when all is said and done, more than science or the collection and use of data, the quest to understand how to create higher levels of innovation leads us back to the quest to better understand human nature.

What most of us have come to realize is that we’re arriving at a place in time that what will serve us best is simplicity. We’re looking for solutions to the resulting emotional stress that all the moving parts and advanced technology creates in our lives. By doing so, we are able to release the creativity required for the further innovation we seek. It’s a matter of doing it in smarter and in simpler ways.

The solution that many of the world’s most innovative organizations have learned to rely on is the use of design thinking. In conducting the research for our new book, Innovation By Design, Thomas Lockwood and I conducted an in-depth study of 21 of the world’s most innovative design thinking organizations. Among a host of great discoveries, including the identification of 10 key attributes, we found that while every organization has a unique culture, those that succeed are able to figure out how to integrate design thinking. That is, through better understanding their culture, they were able to implement and integrate design thinking into it more successfully.

The organizations in our study group learned to use design thinking to simplify and better leverage the human-centered processes through which to innovate.

What they further demonstrate is the ability to apply a systematic approach to understanding and better leveraging their unique culture. This is the attribute we call Culture Awareness: Understanding how to implement and use design thinking in a manner that is in alignment to the organization’s culture. In our book, Thomas and I provide the framework for how they were able to accomplish this success, including the definitions and keys to understanding the three culture types: participation, expertise, and authenticity cultures.

The successful introduction and implementation of any change is reliant on the ability of an organization’s leadership to have an in-depth understanding of culture. In doing so, they can better understand the basic tenets of behavior, and how individual and collective innovation and success is achieved. As the stories of 21 of the world’s most innovative organizations in Innovation By Design demonstrate, such understanding is one of the great undertakings and keys to successfully simplifying and leveraging innovation. The value of having a framework for assessing and understanding culture cannot be understated in leading innovation. Nor can the need for simplicity and a focus on human nature.

Edgar Papke and Thomas Lockwood are the authors of Innovation By Design and founders of InnoAlignment, a consultancy dedicated to assisting leaders in designing and building cultures of innovation.