Last week I made a presentation on “Role of a manager as an innovation catalyst” to 50 odd managers at their company’s offsite. One manager asked me, “What are the characteristics of an innovative culture?” For some reason, I was not happy with my answer. Hence, the question stayed with me. Here is an attempt to present my view of 4 characteristics of an innovative culture in an organizational context.
Experimentation: The first sign that an organization is innovative is visible through the kind of experiments being performed. Typically experiments manifest themselves in the form of prototypes. For example, in a hospital the CEO showed me a checklist prepared by a nurse and subsequently institutionalized in all other branches. In another place, I saw a portal which sourced the latest blogs, ideas, news posted within the organization and showed it in different windows. In a place like Tihar Jail the prototype could very well be the notebooks of the inmates trying to learn alphabets (see the picture above).
Reflection: When you take the question, “How are you doing?” seriously, what you do next is called reflection. Similarly, when a team sits around after a milestone and asks, “What did we do right? What could we have done better?” it is a collective reflection. Why is reflection important? Because that is when you try to make sense out of the clutter in your mind. Only when I reflected did I realize the impact of Daniel Kahneman’s talk on “Psychology of intuition” on my thinking. Only after reflection a team may come to know the diverse set of assumptions under which development and test teams were working. Reflection is visible through the nature of communication in meetings, post project analysis reports, blogs, newsletters, quarterly communication etc.
Recognition: There are two forms of recognition: covert and overt. When an idea suggested by Paul Buchheit or David Grossman gets selected by the organization for further development it is a form of covert recognition. When
Collaboration: Collaboration happens at multiple levels: within a team, across teams, across business units and across companies. If “experimentation” is the first sign of an innovative culture, “collaboration” is the defining characteristic of innovation maturity. At Tihar Jail, collaboration was fostered through various communities like Legal Panchayat, Food Panchayat run by inmates. At another client, every year they form a cross-functional team and send them to the market and ask for their suggestions on the new trends and possible areas for new investments. This year I met a senior engineer who meets his friend from a different group for an hour every month to thrash out ideas – some of them turn out to be patents. I feel "collaboration" especially cross-functional collaboration is the toughest of these four to inculcate.