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Creating a Culture of Innovation that’s Built to Last

Innovation.  Its easily one of the most used buzzwords floating through corporate hallways and coffee houses alike yet most would agree it is fundamentally misunderstood.  Vast numbers of books, articles, conferences describe key ideation processes, prototyping techniques and organizational structures ranging from venture funds and corporate innovation labs to start-up teams and enterprise crowdsourcing communities.  But even with all of those elements, many organizations continue to struggle – their innovation efforts fail to gain necessary traction and can’t achieve long-term scale.  Perhaps, we need to look deeper within ourselves for the answers.

With this and many other questions, I and nearly sixty fellow ‘Intrapreneurs’ recently came together for the Kellogg School of Management’s executive series on ‘Creating a Culture of Innovation’.  Over the course of two days, we listened, debated and questioned our professors and one another.  Nothing was taken at face value.  There was a lot to absorb, more than can be covered in a single blog post.  For starters, I’ve included my favorite takeaways below:

Developing an Innovation Mindset

  • Seeing beyond the present into the future – have a ‘Bank of Tomorrow’
  • Leadership begins with the CEO: committed, accountable, passionate by putting innovation at the center of the business
  • Creating the right collegial atmosphere involves respect, admiration, cooperation, laughter, enthusiasm, consideration, forward-looking, customer-focused, confidence, flexibility, acceptance of failure, freedom
  • Be thinking of the ‘what ifs’ that are out there – are there a diverse set of customer problems your organization can solve
  • Set expectations on the purpose, intent and vision you are trying to achieve – know your ‘growth gap’ and beware the ‘complacency threat’

Favorite quote – “Always be looking for your next moonshot”

Understanding the Impact of Values & Leadership

  • Culture is shared knowledge through a set of values and norms – make them transparent, relatable and visible
  • Strong cultures have fearless cohesion while fostering diversity of thought – involves minimal hierarchy, continuous learning, employees performing at their maximum potential, personal development and expansion and open dialogue

Favorite quote – “Innovation is like breathing; you stop, you die”

Starting With Learning: Lead from Behind

  • Defining what your organization needs to learn and then understand the barriers to that learning – do an audit
  • Know what to learn first, how to take risks and fail in a manner that moves your comfort zone further out
  • ‘Lucky Accidents’ are cool technologies that found a business application; ‘Smart Mistakes’ are well design experiments that help you learn your way towards breakthrough moments
  • Give out more ‘atta boys’ to your teams – the positive reinforcement they need for trying, failing, learning and figuring out what to try next
  • Its the total service experience that counts; look for opportunities to make the invisible, more visible and raise the bar on the seemingly mundane in your industry

Favorite quote – “Invest in your people and be willing to set the performance bar high”

Getting into the Innovation Trenches

  • Smart mistakes can lead to a bumper crop of great pivots if you harvest the learning
  • Good leaders help you figure out the conditions needed to be successful

Favorite quote – “Failure should be the kick in your pants to move forward”

Growing Through Focus

  • Desperation + Perspiration = Critical Inspiration
  • Simplicity and Focus are the handmaidens of innovation
  • Look around, ask what works – find it, bottle it and scale it – seek out the positive deviations
  • Turn challenges into opportunities – “Flip your market” – limited purchasing power, inexperienced consumers, poor infrastructure, harsh operating conditions, high energy costs, lack of consumer financing, low demand density all are angles to consider
  • Articulate your focus – Kraft picked 5/10/10 categories/brands/markets to focus growth efforts

Favorite quote – “Beware of the sacred cows that sit in the middle of your innovation road”

Acting with Values-Based Leadership

  • Employ self-reflection by asking people around you what they think – be open to feedback
  • Realize there are different ways of thinking about problems – look to your network for answers

Favorite quote – “Don’t forget your roots, stay connected to them”

Ultimately, lasting innovation culture starts with strong personal values and a mindset to continually push forward.

I could go on, but the best insights grew out of the one-to-one and small group conversations we had in between and after the day’s close.  It reinforced the importance of having a community of peers to exchange ideas and get feedback – this is essential for any Intrapreneur or other change champion to ultimately be successful.  One company sent six members of their executive team to the class – the President and senior financial, human resource, product development, marketing and operations leaders spent several of the breaks debriefing and building action plans around their learnings.  I can’t wait to learn more about how the collective participation of this company’s executive team helped to enrich their innovation culture development strategy and adoption.

Huge props to the following Kellogg faculty members for delivering an impressive series of lectures and conversations:

  • Dr. Thomas D. Kuczmarski, Kellogg School and Founder of Chicago Innovation Awards
  • Dr. Susan Kuczmarski, Kellogg School and Kuczmarski & Associates
  • Diane Dahl, The Hartell Group
  • Dr. Robert Dewar, Kellogg School – Management & Organizations
  • Harry M. Kraemer, Jr., Madison Dearborn
  • Mohanbir Sawhney, Kellogg Center for Research in Technology & innovation
  • Abigail Washburn, Cultural-Transformation Folk Musician and TED Fellow

I would highly recommend Kellogg’s executive education experience for anyone who is pioneering innovation programs and wants to get to the root of innovation cultures that are built to last.  For more information, you can view the course overview here.

About Michelle Batten

Michelle Batten is a seasoned digital marketing & advertising leader. She has spent two decades in the interactive arena, working with Fortune 1000 brands + start-ups to define and execute their digital initiatives. An emerging media visionary, Michelle is currently serving as Head of Global Marketing for Mobile & Innovation Intrapreneur for Amadeus, a global travel technology company. She is also the President for the Chicago American Marketing Association. Her passions include culture + tech evolution, mentoring, experiential travel and foodspotting.

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