igniting the spark of the culture of innovation

Igniting the spark: Building a culture of innovation

“Innovation is seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.” — Dr. Albert Szent-Györgyi
Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Some of the world’s most successful companies are industry-disrupting innovators—think Apple, Netflix, or Amazon—but they didn’t get there overnight. In fact, Apple released some very unpopular products before it became a household name. Apple’s first attempt at a portable computer was the Macintosh Portable, a 16-pound plastic contraption released in 1989 that the LA Times deemed “too big, too heavy, and too expensive.”

While not every company can become Apple, creating a workplace buzzing with excitement is still possible. We sat down with Territory’s innovation expert Jeremy Varo-Haub to get to the bottom of the culture of innovation.

Why Cultivate a Culture of Innovation?

Business leaders are often distanced from the needs and desires of their customers based on their organization’s structure, highlighting the incredible importance of frontline employees. By fostering a culture of innovation, organizations can effectively tap into their employees’ collective wisdom and creativity. This allows business leaders to better understand and respond to customer needs. In the best cases, it tells business leaders how to empower their employees to meet those needs instead.

Encouraging and supporting innovative thinking throughout an organization ensures that everyone, from top to bottom, is driven to constantly pursue improvement and explore novel avenues to enhance products, services, and processes. It is important, however, to remain vigilant of common innovation “killers.”

Creating a Culture of Breakthrough Innovators 

What are Innovation Killers?

Even well-intentioned companies aiming to foster a culture of innovation can inadvertently stifle their employees’ efforts before they can fully take flight. It’s crucial to be mindful of these common innovation killers that pose potential obstacles along the way.

Fear of Failure

Looking down at a culture of innovation from above.

One of the biggest obstacles to innovation is the fear of failure. To inspire employees to pursue solutions, leaders must establish a philosophy and framework that allows failure to happen (within certain boundaries).

This means creating a culture of “failing forward,” where failures are seen as opportunities for learning, growth, and improvement. Organizations that embrace failure as part of innovation encourage their employees to experiment, take risks, and explore new ideas.

Change Isn’t Easy: How to Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway

Lack of Support

Four employees attempt to innovate without being heard.Support and investment are also vital in inspiring employees. Successful innovative organizations provide employees with the necessary resources and support to develop and implement their ideas. Having an innovation budget and celebrating successes and failures create an environment where employees feel empowered to contribute innovative solutions.

Small businesses can start by making small investments, such as conducting prototype testing or seeking customer feedback, to foster a culture of innovation.

Leadership in Ideation

Resistance to Change

A leader pushes back on the culture of innovation.Resistance to change is another common innovation killer. Employees comfortable with the status quo may resist disruptions or challenges. Leaders must communicate the need for innovation, provide education and training, involve employees in the process, and solicit their input to reduce resistance.

Disruption is the Key to Growth

Benefits in the Short- and Long-Term

A company with a culture of innovation reaps both short- and long-term gains.
Short-Term Gains

In the short term, cultivating a culture of innovation brings several benefits. This type of culture will inspire and empower natural innovators within your organization who might feel stifled without the freedom to try new ideas and respond to customer needs.

Providing these natural innovators with opportunities to contribute will create a sense of fulfillment and engagement. This, in turn, boosts productivity and creativity, leading to improved outcomes and a thriving work environment.

Long-Term Gains

In the long term, organizations that embrace innovation have a better chance of surviving and thriving in a rapidly changing marketplace. Adapting to evolving customer needs and preferences is essential for staying relevant and providing lasting value.

Lack of Innovation: A Blockbuster Story

Blockbuster’s downfall can be attributed to its lack of innovation and failure to adapt. The company resisted the digital revolution, clinging to its brick-and-mortar rental model instead of embracing online streaming, ultimately leading to its demise.


Blockbuster: The rise and fall of the movie rental store, and what happened to the brand

Cultivating A Culture Of Innovation Is Not Just A Buzzword

By fostering an environment where creativity and exploration are encouraged, organizations can tap into the knowledge of their employees and better understand their customers. Identifying and addressing common innovation killers, such as fear of failure and lack of support, is crucial.

Embracing failure as a learning opportunity and providing the necessary resources and encouragement for employees to innovate are key to creating a culture of innovation. Organizations will experience increased employee engagement, productivity, and creativity in the short term. In the long term, embracing innovation is crucial for staying relevant, adapting to customer needs, and avoiding the fate of companies that fail to innovate and adapt. Organizations can unlock their full potential and achieve long-term success by igniting the spark of innovation.

Parker Lee

Parker Lee is the managing partner of Territory, a design consultancy, who has developed and led teams in transformation, design thinking, and business development for decades. Co-author of The Art of Opportunity, he has created and facilitated dozens of design and visual thinking engagements.

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