Serious conversations about creating sustained innovation cultures have been on the rise over the last 15 years, building on creative thinking research from the last 65 years.








Mistakes are being made on the road to this aspiration. Repeatedly. And unnecessarily.

Let’s talk about the most common mistakes and make a plan to rise above them.

As organizations overtly choose to take action in the direction of enhancing their innovation output, there are three most common first moves:

– Place the word “Innovation” as an aspiration in the core executive communications and company value system.

– Offer training to employees in creative thinking & collaboration techniques

– Utilize information technology to increase the likelihood that ideas are captured

While each of these is a useful move when seeking a sustained innovation culture, without a systems level approach, they become dangerous obsessions, setting organizations up for ultimate failure.

A voyeuristic interlude: text from a recent e-mail, Fortune 100

“…Three days later, my boss’s boss’s boss’s boss gave a presentation about the direction of our division. He described his five-year plan and asked us all to remember three words. I forget two of them, but the third one was “innovation.”  My ears perked up because he genuinely sounded like he was going to make innovation a priority.  How could I think otherwise when he made it one of his three words? I was feeling bold so I raised my hand at the Q&A slide of his PowerPoint presentation and asked him what the specific plans were to improve innovation in the division. He told me two stories about somewhat innovative things our division has done within the past year and didn’t even come close to stating any specific plans. Apparently, his plans to improve innovation were to put the word on a PowerPoint slide.”

A recent conversation with professional innovation colleagues at the Creative Problem Solving Institute will illustrate my point. This is the oldest innovation-oriented conference on the planet, completing its 62nd year this past June. The conference and the professional innovation experts it has trained are responsible directly and indirectly for training many hundreds of millions on Design Thinking, Creative Problem Solving, Synectics, Kepner Trego, de Bono’s Lateral Thinking, and a plethora of additional lesser known innovation producing methods. All work. And are needed. But…

“We have individuals, or even small teams come to this conference year after year where they get incredibly excited to use the skills they learn here. Yet we send them back to their workplace broken. We’ve enticed them into a way of thinking and collaborating that their organizations are not ready to support.”

We need to put in place the systems, procedures, policies, metrics and accountability measures required to build (and sustain) the kind of organizational culture which allows creative collaboration to flourish day to day. Yes, training, communication, and IT enabled supports are necessary. But done alone, they are the road to yet another flavor-of-the-month failure. In your efforts to find differentiating innovation, it’s important to build a differentiating innovation culture. Someone in your sector is going to do it better than the rest. Why not make that you.

There are 12 key strategic levers you must pull – permanently – to get there. Learn them. Build strategy to implement them in a sustained way. Let’s stop “breaking people” with design thinking, creative problem solving and other similar thinking systems offered outside of an ecosystem that will support their sustained use. Take our innovation assessment to understand where your organization is too focused and where you are not focused enough.

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