In prepping for a podcast interview about Innovation+Culture with Prof. Chris Labash from Carnegie Mellon University for this community, it dawned on me that maybe we don’t need to work on developing a culture of innovation, but that we instead need to remove the barriers to innovation, which is naturally part of our culture to start with.
Let me explain my point and see if you can agree.
Culture is defined by most anthropologists as a collection of values, beliefs, rituals, symbols, language and technology — and I am sure that I am missing a few elements that could be considered part of culture. It is also agreed upon that humans deal with change through culture.
When new products or technologies hit markets (a change in the marketplace), consumers tend to respond to it through changing rituals (think of how you eat your Oreos), changing languages (e.g., twitter and SMS languages are different), new symbols (think of the continuously emerging clothing symbols that millenials are attracted to), or new values (think of sustainability in the wake of green product and service launches). So the consumer cultures change based on changes in the marketplace. The same happens with employee cultures when organizations launch new internal strategies — like collaboration strategies. The new cultures can be better, or they can resist the change and become toxic.
So let’s now look at innovation. When a new innovation comes along it usually involves a new technology — broadly defined. It often leads to new languages, new symbols, new rituals and shifting beliefs and values. And because innovations are by definition change, you know that they will impact culture. So in a way, innovations are part of human culture, they are not just a result of having a proper innovation culture. Neantherthals became extinct because they did not innovate, and it can be argued that Shakers and Amish cultures are stagnant because they reject innovations. So innovation has been part of modern human culture for tens of thousands of years.
So what does that mean?
I think it means that innovation is inherently part of your organizational culture unless you create inhibitors for it. You do not need to create a culture for innovation, you need to remove the barriers that stand in the way of it.
Do you buy that? Let us know what you think.