Creating A Culture Of Innovation - Proteus Leadership
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Creating A Culture Of Innovation

Why would you bother – it is hard work!

“In the mind and heart of every person is a car park of unfulfilled ideas and dreams that have not yet come to fruition – but they still can.” – Des Penny

Anyone who knows me will not be surprised by the fact that one of my single greatest passions is to help people discover the innovation gene that is inside them. Unfortunately, many just choose to leave it dormant.

My journey to innovation commenced as a child watching my father. He pushed boundaries, took risks and much of the time put his reputation on the line for what he believed was a better way. I learned so much from him – what to do and what NOT to do.

We have all watched people around us doing great things, but there comes a time when we have to stop watching and start doing! This is a step that many have often not taken, but it is the difference between being an innovator and being an ideas person.

Twenty-one years later I own and run a national company that I love getting up for every single day of my life. In fact, my love for innovation and creating a better way is stronger than it has ever been before.

So, through this article I want to infect you with the innovation bug and help you to create a culture of innovation that comes from doing, rather than a culture of frustration, that comes from just watching.

Innovate or die!

The author Jack Collis wrote a book called – Innovate or Die! It is so relevant for the environment we find ourselves in today.

In it, he states that it is not a choice anymore! We must innovate, or we die!

So, as you read this article take a moment to stop and do something practical.

Think of something right now that you have really wanted to make better for a long time, but haven’t. Now ask yourself, “WHY NOT?”

But be careful, because our minds are programmed to immediately go to justify WHY WE COULD NOT. This is very different.

Now, take ownership of this situation by asking – “why did I allow this to happen?” – and “what will I do to change it!”

This is how simple it is to become an innovator and to build a culture of innovation – personally and in the workplace.

So what is innovation?

The standard definition of what innovation is all about is the art of making our ideas actually happen. But I believe that innovation means much more than this.

1. Innovation is growth

Innovation is all about experiencing growth. I am not talking just about numbers and dollars, but about holistic growth that helps people to expand their minds and activity, while seeing increases in productivity and revenue.
This is what Jack Collis meant; if there is no growth then eventually our idea or organisation will shrivel up and die.

2. Innovation is team

True innovation involves everyone, not just a few. We have been led to believe over the years that creativity and innovation is reserved for the ‘gifted’ few, this could not be further from the truth. Innovation is a collective. It is the responsibility of everyone to innovate.

3. Innovation is leadership

What is leadership if it is not to lead innovation? We either lead growth, or just manage the status quo.
So, if culture is described as – ‘the way we do things around here’, then building a culture of innovation is the same. It is not just created through a single event, but through constantly trying new things over and over again. In fact, the best way I can explain it is to put it into what I call:

The innovation cake recipe:

  • A pinch of foolishness
  • A cup of risk
  • An idea that has no real chance of success in most people’s minds
  • Mix together and continue to stir until it forms a solid DNA

Do you have the ingredients in your personal and organisational cupboard?

But to effectively bake this cake and create a culture of innovation, both personally and within our workplaces, we will need to consider four very important things.

1. Connect with positivity

Recently I watched an interview with the amazing Dr. Fiona Wood, past Australian of the year and world expert in the field of burns. The interviewer asked Dr. Wood what the keys were to being a great innovator, and I must admit I was surprised by her response, but I get why she answered this way. She said, “if you want to be an innovator, connect with positivity and STOP listening to, and spreading bad press and negativity. STOP the blame game”!

What a wonderful response!

Cultures that make a difference in the world stop the blame game, because innovation can never grow in a garden of negativity and blame – the fruit will shrivel up before it has a chance to develop.

Most weeks I receive at least one negative email from some helpful person who believes they need to challenge me on something I said or did. Most of the time I didn’t say it and often was not even there, but that’s OK because every time you innovate or put yourself out there, the response you get will not always be positive. It would be easy to be affected by these people and just settle back into mediocrity, but we make the choice as to what we let motivate us, because for every negative comment I get, another four people will say thank you and be inspired by what I have done or said.

Rather than get angry, or be mortally wounded, make the choice – it is an easy one really!

It is the same in our organisation; focus on the good you and your organisation have done and are doing and you will see a massive change in your culture and the flow of ideas.

2. Create an innovation mindset in your workplace

The only way innovation can become a part of our culture is to adopt – the concept of everyone as an innovator.

We need to build Intrapreneurs not Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs are the people you meet or work with that always have ideas but they are usually outward looking. They usually want to go alone – eventually.

Intrapreneurs are the people in your circle, personal and professional, or the people you recruit, who are focused on creating a better way right where they are. Our organisations are full of them. We just need to help them reinvigorate their innovation gene.

What if it works concept?

Challenge people to talk about the possibility of success. Every time they give you an excuse as to why something won’t work, challenge with the statement, “but what if it did”? Keep coming back at them with that until you wear them down. An innovation mindset will always look at a successful result, that way, if the idea is not right, you will at least know why.

As the interview with Dr. Wood continued, she was asked how this busy woman, who by the way also has six children, finds the energy to do what she does. Again she blew me away with her simple but powerful answer; “Every day I plan to make something better than it was yesterday – that is innovation and that is what keeps me going!”

You see, to be great innovators, it must become a part of who we are.

We become great at things the more we do them – that is the reason some people are great innovators and entrepreneurs and others are not. Not because they are necessarily smarter or have more ideas, but because they practice the art of innovation.

You cannot expect to have a culture of innovation if you do not try and try again.

Great innovators bake the innovation cake often!

3. Visualise the outcomes

There has been a trend in coaching/sports psychology of recent years that suggests we don’t look at the end goal, we just work hard at what we do every day and the end result will look after itself. Eg. Don’t visualise the GOLD medal just work hard and it will happen. Well, I am not sure that I totally agree with this line of thinking.

Working hard is important but so is the end goal.

The end goal for me is the purpose, the reason that we do work hard every day. So start looking at the end goal – know exactly what you are aiming for.

What will it look like? You must see a picture otherwise everything is based on chance and chance looks after itself!

True innovators have a clear picture of what success might look like.

4. Move from change thinking to innovation thinking

As we have heard many times – change will happen with or without you, but innovation is different, it requires conscious decisions, followed by conscious actions.

Move your talk from change to innovation and growth. It brings a whole new meaning to your discussions and actually puts change into perspective removing the sometimes – negative connotations and fear that can be associated with change management.

I believe that people and organisations that fear change simply fear themselves. It means that they have not yet developed the trust in themselves required to make a difference.

So, how do we create a culture of innovation both personally and in our organisations? Well adopting the following tips would be a good way to start.

1. Understand what innovation is and that everyone needs to be involved to create a culture.
2. Connect with positivity – start talking about and focusing on the good you do.
3. Create an innovation mindset that says – everyday I will work at making something a little bit better, right where I am. Become and develop intrapreneurs.
4. Move your thinking from CHANGE to GROWTH & INNOVATION – this is what creates culture.
5. Visualise the outcomes – know what you are aiming for and then do everything you can to make it happen – bake the cake of innovation often.

I expect to make a difference every single day of my life – and so can you!

I want to finish this article with a quote that is the foundation for creating a culture of innovation:

When you change the way you see things, the things you see, change!

By Des Penny
Leading Executive Officer | Proteus Leadership


Proteus Leadership is one of Australia’s premier leadership training and development companies. Proteus Leadership provides leadership courses and management training to a range of industries and assists organisations to build positive workplace cultures, implement change and Create Great Leaders. Proteus also facilitates a range of world-class management courses, workshops, conferences and events across Australia and beyond with the sole purpose of bringing leaders together to connect and grow.

“Our core purpose is to Create Great Leaders that will in turn build Great companies and develop Great teams.”