Innovation often comes at a time and place we least expect. Those who stay aware are able to take advantage of it.
A few years ago, an Argentinian mechanic named Jorge Odón saw a YouTube video showing a novel way to extract a cork from inside a wine bottle. The process involved inserting a plastic bag, inflating it so it surrounded the cork, then pulling the cork out with ease. When Jorge and a friend tried it over dinner, it worked!
For most of us, that parlor trick would be good for a few chuckles. But Odón woke the next day to a lightbulb moment. He theorized that the same method for extracting wine corks could be applied to difficult baby deliveries. Odón developed a prototype and shared it with an obstetrician who encouraged him to pursue research and development.
Today the Odón Device is hailed as the most revolutionary development in obstetrics in the last century—a low-cost lifesaver in developing countries and a means of reducing Caesarean births in developed ones.
If a mechanic with no medical background can transform obstetrics, then your leaders are capable of transforming your company by cultivating an innovation culture. By encouraging their teams to find their inner “Odóns,” they can establish an environment that values and rewards innovation. As Steve Jobs put it, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”
What will empower your company to respond creatively to challenges is to ensure that innovation becomes a shared basic assumption. You want it to become so deeply embedded in the culture that it sometimes goes unnoticed—but not unused.
Leaders can then leverage that culture of innovation to empower the company employees to see opportunity where others see challenges. No less a visionary than Henry David Thoreau wrote, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”
Share the following six ways to cultivate a culture of innovation with your leaders and managers to help them see better.
How to Create a Culture of Innovation
- Model it. Your leaders need to act on opportunities quickly and decisively. If their decisions reflect where the business is going, not where it is today, their mindset can permeate the whole organization. If they demonstrate a forward-thinking mindset, you’ll soon start to see creativity amongst all your leaders and team members.
- Encourage positive failure. Failure is a critical part of success. Your leaders need to know their creative problem-solving attempts are appreciated even when the end result isn’t quite what they hoped.
- Embrace option-thinking. Your leaders and managers need to become comfortable with change and risk. Great ideas are born from uncertainty. Take another look at Odón. His own wife told him he was crazy at first! But innovators like Odón look for options, no matter how off-the-wall they may appear. If you can encourage that environment with your leaders, innovation can follow.
- Insist on solution-thinking. No one benefits from constant complaining that doesn’t seek a solution. Train your leaders to brainstorm multiple solutions for every problem they identify. This approach not only minimizes the issues that come up, but also gives leaders ownership of challenges.
- Harness the power of fresh perspective. One of the best ways to remain innovative and flexible is to make the most of new leaders’ perspectives. Keep fresh eyes around and listen closely to their observations. Your team may be surprised by how much they bring to the table.
- Celebrate good ideas. When dealing with leaders and managers in your organization, let them know their ideas are important. If they feel their voice is taken seriously, they’ll feel free to express the next great idea instead of keeping to themselves or taking it somewhere else. Celebrate good ideas, acknowledge the people who bring them forward, and your company will discover a never-ending supply of leading-edge suggestions.
One of the best military leaders in the history of the US, General George Patton, shared this battle-tested wisdom: “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” When the leaders in your company apply Patton’s approach with the six ways listed above, they will soon be implementing the fresh ideas born of your innovation culture.