Nurturing an innovative culture

May 17th, 2011

These days I am preparing for leading a workshop on innovation. One of the things that in my experience help nurture an innovative culture, is the ability to be mindful. These two things are closely linked together. When you are mindful, you turn off the automatic-pilot and look at things “a new” – as for the first time. You challenge habits and keep on asking yourself: Why are we doing this? What if we did this? What does it feel like, when we are doing this and not this? And what does that teach us? You ask a lot of questions – to yourself and your surroundings. You also try to establish courage to do things that you usually don’t do, if you in an enlightened moment get a feeling, that this might work or be a good idea. Just go do it! Try it out and see what happens!

Yesterday I had a sparring-session with a leader. It was raining. Usually on a day like this, with the rain pouring down, I would ask him to meet me in his office. But yesterday we both challenged the assumption, that when it is raining you can’t do a walk-and-talk session. So we went into the forrest and had the coaching-session there. To our surprise we found out, that what we had assumed (that we would be wet and cold) turned out not to be true. The trees covered for the rain! And it was not cold at all. And what if it had been, anyhow?

We very often limit ourselves because we think: that won´t work, that will not be possible, you can´t do that. Next time you hear yourself or somebody else say things like this – challenge it. If you want to nurture an innovative culture, make people come up with weird ideas. Ask them to brainstorm and say yes to the mess. Ask them to challenge assumptions – hidden in themselves, their colleagues, the organizational culture. Try out new things, experiment and don’t punish failures.

One of the leading companies within product innovation – IDEO – has this rule: fail often in order to succeed sooner. They call it “enlightened triel and error”. Of course you need to give it SOME reality check before you try your weird idea out, but very often we dump an idea before we have even considered whether it MIGHT work or not. Because of fear of failure and fear of looking ridiculous in other peoples eyes. That is why you need courage when you innovate. You need to be able to do things, that other people might find stupid or weird. And you need a mindful brain: a brain that help you see things a new, as mentioned, and discover dimension in all the things, structures, habits, rules that are right in front of you and that you take for granted. Don’t take anything for granted! Cherish life, people around you, all the little things you can enjoy everyday. Don’t assume, that just because it works today it will work tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow calls for you to do something different? What might that be? Think about it…