InnovationYesterday I was part of a panel discussion on innovation and entrepreneurship at the opening of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Center (IEDC) at the Dayanand Sagar College of Engineering. One of the first questions the moderator posed was “How does one create a culture of innovation and what role does leadership play?

To me this is not that different from the question, How does one create a culture of ______ (fill in the blank) – for instance courtesy and consideration. You start by being polite – kind and courteous. Similarly creating a culture of innovation within our companies, divisions or teams is to start by being innovative. What does that mean?

To me it means three things

a] INSPIRE Talk about, share and celebrate innovation – set aside time, whether a Friday lunch or before your weekly team meeting to show what you mean by innovation. Bring in a mechanical water sprinkler and share with your team why you think it is innovative or better yet ask them what is innovative about it. A clasp on someone’s chain, a pain-free blood sugar measurement tool – in other words – “the ordinary” and the extraordinary that’s around us every day. Allows you to discuss and develop a shared sense of what is innovation and over the common misconception that only a cure for cancer can be innovation. Over time this can be things that your own team or company are innovated, but don’t wait for it to be done in-house

b] MEASURE Put in a process, where the team can spend time focusing on problems – which allow scope for innovation – could be in technology, internal processes or methods or any other function within your business. Intuit for instance created a process for employees to share ideas and seek inputs which has eventually become a product they now offer their customers. And most importantly put in measures — only that which gets measured will get done. So when you talk about it, ask about it, measure it, everyone begins to pay attention to it and that’s how a culture of caring about innovation gets slowly built up.

c] REWARD & RECOGNIZE Nothing works like recognizing the work people are doing and rewarding innovative behavior. A critical element here is not to celebrate success alone or what is commonly perceived as success – ie a new product that launches or a new idea that’s implemented, but to recognize and reward risk taking. Unless we create a culture within our companies of tolerating mistakes and viewing them as a way to learn and do better, it will be very hard to create a culture of innovation. As Gordon Moore, founder of Intel put it “I view this year’s failure as next year’s opportunity to try it again. Failures are not something to be avoided. You want to have them happen as quickly as you can so you can make progress rapidly.”

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