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Culture Trumps Concepts

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When many people hear the word 'Innovation' they think of a service
that created a category: Xerox or FedEx. Or, they think of one that made
bold, brilliant moves to earn a leadership position in an emerging
space: Google, Facebook, Uber and Airbnb.

They may claim that
innovation is one of their organization's core values or core pillars,
but no one there can quite articulate how their formal innovation
programs works.

Or, you hear bitterness in their voice: 'They tried Innovation, once.' This is a composite sketch of many similar stories.

They
procured modest funding, were given some time away from their other
role, and were charged to bring back something big, something
disruptive. On the organization's dime they went to a few conferences,
read a few books, even took a workshop. By retooling themselves they
reoriented how they see the business, their mental model of reality.
Worlds of possibilities began to open to them ' new products, services,
adaptations to the business model and, yes, a new platform that would
position the organization for optimum growth fueled by radically
disrupting the industry.

Rife with potential and inspired by this
license to innovate, they morphed together several methods and tools.
They got fresh, first-hand insights from the people who use their
products and services. They enrolled a few others to join this positive,
creative revolution inside the company. The team was electrified,
intent on creating not only some cool things, but by the prospect of
really helping people have a great experience with their company's
products and services.

The initial business case seemed
irrefutable. With the zeal of a business prophet a presentation was
given to senior leadership. A portfolio of concepts that could, with
modest investment, change the course of the organization for the better
were ready to implement.

Then, all of the momentum crashed into a
wall. 'We'd like to thank you and your team for this new thinking,'
says one executive. 'We've invested a lot into this program, but now is
just not the time to actually try these ideas in the market.'

'From this point, just go back to your former role full-time,' says the crestfallen one's director.

From
this point in the organization's history, this is the perception of
Innovation ' a few rebel cells in an otherwise orderly body. Yet in
reality, the concepts were valid, tethered to the larger context of the
company's identity and strategy. Generating valuable ideas was not the
problem.

If you want a value-generating innovation program, you
have to first craft a culture that accepts innovation before the
commission of a project. Start with the executive team.

Culture
first, then concepts ' otherwise, you'll have a business that thinks it
has checked the Innovation Box, proven it's just a fad, and gets back to
the same old things, a calcifying culture.

Michael Graber, managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, can be reached at southerngrowthstudio.com

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