Developing an innovative culture is something that every organization looks to create. Not everyone is able to achieve this, and trust me I’ve worked for many companies that have fallen short. But those who develop this culture have a few common traits that I feel can be replicated. I’ve had the privilege of being a part of innovative and non-innovative cultures in the industry and DoD. Because of that, I want to share with you all the knowledge I’ve learned throughout my professional career on how to create an innovative culture. These are only suggestions and more can be added to them. But I’m only going to keep it to what I believe are the top 5 must-haves. As I have come to realize, they are the same both in the DoD and Industry.
Don’t be a Micro-Manager
One of the best ways to kill creativity is by micro-managing the people that work for you. Not allowing your subordinates to express their art will kill their will to innovate. In time, you will see this take effect in the form of a drop in productivity and a high turnover rate. The reason for this is, and I can advocate for this, highly creative individuals will leave as soon as they feel restricted. This leaves you with the individuals that are just looking to keep a job and pay bills. Which does nothing for you in the innovation department. Without the individuals in your organizations that are looking to take risks, innovation will stagnate.
I’ve seen this way too many times and it kills me to know that we let an amazing talent go. All because the leader didn’t want to let go of creative control. Moreover, you as a leader have to encourage the spread of creative thought and action with your subordinates. That’s exactly what micro-managers do not do. One of our very own Matt Denny just wrote an article about Napoleon’s Corporal which I believe will be a good intro for this article, check it out. So, the moral of this story is don’t be a micro-manager if you want to innovate.
Inspire a Bias for Action
What most people don’t understand about innovation is that it takes a lot of calculated risks. Most people will hesitate to make a decision and delay the action. In order to innovate, you have to have a bias for action. You also have to inspire that bias for action in your team. Calculated risks are risky by nature and if you are looking to innovate you have to take as many calculated risks as you can. In fact, if you read that last sentence and thought “that is so wrong and not true” then you are not looking to innovate. Sorry, but that’s a fact.
Have a Creative Workspace
This is something that most people overlook entirely. I see this a lot with the Marine Corps, but they are not the only culprits. When you ask someone to be creative and you put them in a colorless dungeon then how can you expect them to create something beautiful? The thing is you can’t! So, when thinking about your team and innovation you have to build a creative space. What that means is to have color and a style that you’re going with. Look I’m not a great interior designer but that doesn’t mean I don’t see the importance of thinking about the design of my office. I want to make sure that the space that I’m in inspires innovation.
Color affects your emotions and how you react to certain things. So, providing the right color schemes is vitally important when looking to create an innovative space. You probably wouldn’t think that would make a difference but it really does.
Centralized Control and Decentralized Command
This is big within the Department of Defense. But it’s very true and does actually work when actually implemented! Problem is, this concept is not always implemented. For those that don’t know what this is saying, centralized control means you are guiding the vision. Decentralizing command, on the other hand, you are allowing the free flow of how the vision gets accomplished by your subordinate leaders. This goes back to the micro-managing part.
Decentralizing command is a very difficult thing to do for two reasons. First, the planning that goes into making sure that the decentralized command needs are a long and hard process. You need to make sure that you have a strong intent that is understood by many and is broad but not too broad. Also, it can get nerve-wracking knowing that you are letting go of control of your vision. Second, again it’s the letting go part. A lot of people hate to see things go. Having as much control as possible is what helps them sleep at night. But when done right Centralized Control and Decentralized command can do wonders for an organization.
Throughout my career, I’ve experienced both innovative and (very) non-innovative work cultures. The difference in morale and productivity is night and day. Creating an environment where everyone is on that innovative track is a difficult thing to do. One is because it is difficult to give up that control. Two the planning and back-end work that goes behind it is a lot! But if you are willing to put in the work as a leader, you’ll see results. Putting in the work of what colors work well with each other, and how to provide your employees with the freedom to express your organization’s success. Your organization will find itself innovating like never before. I know because I’ve had great leaders that have created such environments and they have done wonders for me.