You can’t escape the reality that having the right environment for innovation means different things to different people. What we should be all able to agree upon is that the environment for innovation houses many of the conditions that connect innovation in people’s minds. The environment needs to be connected into the vision around innovation, it needs to be translated for each of us to relate too. The environment provides the right growing conditions for your organization to foster its unique environment to prosper and grow. Deny those growing conditions and any innovation initiative is going to struggle and eventually die from the lack of the essential feeding of its roots.
Whenever I return to thinking about the environment for innovation I go back to my own roots of my initial innovation studies. My very first part of my innovation dissertation for my Master’s degree began by thinking over the cultural and climate conditions an organization needs.
Creating within the right conditions
For me the environment we create for innovation offers the place, time and space to chase after those innovation challenges. It needs to create within you those conditions, passions, commitments, identifications that will inspire you to tackle the challenge. It should be offering an environment that will allow you to be stretched both in body and mind to seek out something worthwhile, valued by others as making a contribution of turning ideas into winning propositions.
Working on the conditions that will have a clear impact on the way people think and behave needs a fair amount of thinking through. The environment is made up of the climate, the culture, and the conditions to allow creativity to blossom and grow.
Visualizing the Innovation Environment needed
Whenever I get asked the question: “so what makes up this innovation environment”, I think of a tree and its roots.
The end result we require from setting in place the right conditions of having a climate and culture to innovate is we get a whole lot closer to Creativity, the generation of new ideas, and Innovation, the translation of those ideas into useful new products, services or business opportunities that gives us fresh growth.
It is providing the appropriate conditions for interactions to happen between the person and the idea or concept so as to ‘fuse’ this in new ways, through all of the enabling factors that encourage ‘it’ to develop and then emerge as a final commercial concept.
This provision of the right conditions and enabling factors becomes our innovation environment.
Setting about understanding the work environment for innovation will determine partly the eventual success and impact innovation will have on an organization's performance.
We start with our understanding of what makes up the climate for innovation.
The commonly held view is this climate reflects in different ways to each of us, in people’s perceptions and beliefs about the environmental attributes, shaping expectations about outcomes, requirements and interactions. The level of moderators each of us relates too is partly determined by the conditions and how we see our place within the innovation activity required. For example are these set in turbulent times, is there real competitive pressure forcing us to react and then what are those real internal pressures to perform?
Also what is the make-up of the job on hand we are asked to undertake? The level of creativity and idea generation required, the type of innovation expected, the stage of our job within the innovation process (early, mid, late), the amount of discretion we are given, the rewards for any creative performance, the team construction and what we feel is the make-up of our own personal level of satisfaction, all influence our thinking. Each contributes to the climate and the conditions to innovate.
Then we are faced with those enduring patterns and beliefs of what shapes our culture.
Culture has often been described as the ‘collective programming of the mind”, it distinguishes the members of one social group from another. Culture is usually sought out to be stable, deep and constantly reinforced by a history of decisions, the use of power and learning strategies for answering and setting about how we tackle fundamental questions. We constantly reinforce our habits, our routines and decision-making in repeating ways. We are far more comfortable when we can assimilate new experiences with existing patterns.
The earliest association of the word culture was the way people in particular took care of the soil, in our own way, and how they successfully worked the soil was influenced by a number of key factors, all aimed at producing the best yield possible from all the contributing conditions. It is how we have chosen to deal with certain situations or confronted with similar repeating problems. Culture becomes engrained in us, it is very hard to undo, let go and reform into something different, without considerable recognition and hard work.
According to Edgar Shein, one of the most cited writers in the field of organizational culture we have three main sources that form our cultures that often need challenging. The first is the beliefs, values and assumptions held over from the past, are passed on, repeated and accepted. Then we have the exposure to learning experiences for us to evolve and grow. Then thirdly, is from the infusion of new ideas, members, leaders and practices.
As culture is such a deep, stable, complex set of shared assumptions that has built up over relatively long periods of time within most organizations, it is not an easy task to suddenly expect a new one for innovation, if this has not been part of this ongoing culture. It is the changing of the patterns of behaviour, attitudes and beliefs and these are often deeply engrained in us, causing rejection before acceptance. Change requires the classic “unfreeze- transition- refreeze” as the journey we often have to travel.
Climate and Culture are distinct
Finally, our climates are distinct from our culture as they are far more observable at a surface level and far more amenable to change and improvement efforts. The more we can change our climate the more it will, over time, influence our culture. They do have a very ‘creative tension’ between them when you set about change.
There are so many, often opposing forces, at work within our organizations. To create an environment for innovation to suddenly have impact, to provide the conditions to think and behave differently is a challenging task.
A next step is really too understand your climate for creativity.
I want to focus more specifically on the climate for creativity and innovation in a separate post but I would suggest there is no greater place to start to make change than to create the possibilities for individuals to have the power to experiment, to create, to develop and to test, simply to learn to innovate as a natural state.
This natural state can be encouraged and followed up constantly, not enforced but expected as part of everyday learning by all people, at all levels, all contributing to solving organizational problems, to inventing, designing new methods, approaches and contributing to new strategic thought.
Building the innovation environment certainly takes dedicated time
Building the environment for innovation take time, dedicated understanding of its make-up and parts that influence or constrain. It is working on the creative climate as this supports the new generation, consideration, assimilation of new working approaches, practices and concepts.
All I suggest is that this needs to be deliberate and well led from the top, otherwise it does not create this new innovating environmental condition for our tree, shown above, or its roots, to grow and spread and give a stronger foundation to weather changing conditions and rise to the innovation challenges.
- Making an impact on an organization's innovation environment
- 5 ways in which your physical work-environment can improve innovation