One of the areas that we get the most questions in is how do I change my culture so that people feel safe to be able to innovate to try new things? The reason that we get this question is because quite often, what leaders are seeing is that people aren’t taking enough risks, which means they don’t get the innovation that they’re looking for.
This is a hard culture to shift and change if you don’t have the right people with the right kind of thinking on board. We quite often reference other organizations like Pixar, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft, which are very high innovation hubs. The reason they’re high on innovation and creativity is because they employ people that are willing to take the risk, they’re willing to be wrong, they’re willing to take a gamble on something, they’re willing to give it a go, play with it, experiment with it and not get it right the first time. This is the sort of mentality and mindset that you’re going to need to enable so you to can have a culture that inspires innovation.
So how do you create a culture like this when you’ve got people who are fearful? How do you create innovation when you’ve got people who are more likely to take fewer risks in their life? And let’s be honest, people who are employed within big government organizations and big companies are often, and I’m generalizing a lot here, but often looking for stability.
Unfortunately stability is contrary to innovation. This isn’t a great state of being when you want to inspire innovation. This means you might have to temper your expectations with the knowledge that your organization, if it is a very large, established, and conservative organization, your people will be the kind of people that may have a mindset of long-established stability.
So what do you do in this case?
Well, one of the things you can do, and here’s where we always tell people to start, is: start small. Start with low risk projects, start playing with something that’s not as high value to the company.
We want to mazimise results by putting our time and effort and energy into big valuable projects. To get big success you need to let go of the little stuff, and focus on the high-value stuff…. EXCEPT when you’re trying to shift the mindsets and shift the behaviours of the people in your workplace. Then I suggest you start small, allow them to play with something, and feel what it feels like to fail without risk and consequences to their job.
Start with a small project, maybe it’s a recalibration of a particular process. A process that is painful and needs to change, but not one that’s going to stop the business from moving entirely. Get a group of people together, have a look at the process. Let them come up with a new way of doing it that sits completely outside of the current way of doing it. You might even need to challenge them and tell them you expect experimentation and failure. You may give them a list of challenges to ask each other. Here are a few questions you can encourage them to use:
- How can we rethink this?
- How could we do this without using a form, without using a process?
- How could we get this done?
- How can we get the outcome that we want?
- How can we learn what works and what doesn’t, in the fastest way?
“Move Fast and Break Things” Mark Zuckerberg
You might have to put some rules around “groupthink”. Groupthink is when a group of people start thinking the same and don’t challenge the norms of the group. Many times its because the people get along well, and are ‘like-minded’.
A good way of challenging groupthink is by assigning roles. A role that we quite often talk about is the devil’s advocate role. Unfortunately, many people use that as a get out of jail free card, when they’re wanting to say something mean. However, you can use it as a role that purposefully challenges the group ideas or the status quo. You can assign this role to one person, but a better outcome will be to assign that role to everyone. Everyone is allowed to be, or even expected to be devil’s advocate at least once during the conversation.
Setting up an experiment like this in with a small group of people with a low impact, disruption and/or outcome allows your people to play with the feeling of failure, because failure is vulnerability. You don’t get innovation without vulnerability and without failure. Those two things are absolutely critical in the innovation process.
Therefore, you need to be able to establish an environment whereby blame, shame and judgment are excluded from your feedback loops. Learning, accountability, and trying something different next time, absolutely are part of that feedback process. Suggestions for looking differently, looking bigger, thinking differently, thinking bigger, are absolutely part of that learning loop feedback process.
Experiment, small, big and often:
Culture doesn’t shift with one activity. It takes a number of different activities across an organization at different levels, and using different methods to enable the culture to shift. But I challenge you to try out this way of experimenting to create more innovation in your environment, and in your workplace.
Try it today. Put a team of people together, allocate them a low impact task, make it really hard so they will fail. Let them feel what failure feels like. And then do a debrief afterwards about what failure feels like, what they learned from the process and then challenge them to do it again.