Creating a Culture of Innovation: Learning From the Best

Inspiration often precedes innovation, a topic I love. Innovation is such a personal, creative endeavor, but the influence of others plays a big role in helping us succeed. Here I’ll share insights from some of those who’ve inspired me when it comes to developing innovative practices in my business. Perhaps they will have the same effect on you. If nothing else, this article will encourage you to take time out to reflect and work a little magic on the innovation front.

Oh, and at the end of each passage, there’s a lesson learned along with a big question to get a conversation going.

Walt Disney
“My father was not a complicated man.” ~ Diane Disney Miller (daughter of Walt Disney)

If there is one way to foster innovation in your business, it is to be innovative yourself and to be straightforward. In “Walt Disney: An American Original” by Bob Thomas, Diane Disney Miller says this about her dad: “I think Dad was an easy read. He didn’t want to be complicated. He was always straightforward, never devious. Not unless he could be devious in a constructive way.” Diane continues, “We always ate dinner late, because Dad worked late at the studio. He would tell about what he was doing, but he also wanted to know about our lives, too. And he would listen.”

Did Walt go through tough times with his business? You bet. Yet he did not let financial woes get in the way of fostering innovation. “I’ve always been bored with just making money,” Walt once said. “I’ve wanted to do things, I wanted to build things. Get something going. People look at me in different ways. Some of them say, ‘The guy has no regard for money.’ That is not true. I have had regard for money. But I’m not like some people who worship money as something you’ve got to have piled up in a big pile somewhere. I’ve only thought of money in one way, and that is to do something with it, you see? I don’t think there is a thing that I own that I will ever get the benefit of, except through doing things with it.”

Lesson: To create a culture of innovation, be straightforward. Listen. Simplify. Do things. Build things. Get something going.

Question: Do you think innovation has a heart? Where some go for the intellect, Walt seemed to know how to tap into people’s emotions. What do you think? How do you feel about innovating from the heart?

Samuel J. Palmisano
As Samuel J. Palmisano, president and the eighth chief executive officer of IBM Corporation says, “Few words are more ubiquitous in business or society today than ‘innovation.’ It’s rare to walk through an airport, watch an hour of television or pick up a major publication without running across it. It’s on the minds of a growing number of CEOs, government officials, and academic and community leaders as they look for ways to survive and thrive in an increasingly complex and connected world,” he writes in “Global Innovation Outlook 2.0” (International Business Machines Corporation 2006).

“We use the word at IBM, too – but that’s nothing new. Innovation has been central to our company for nearly a century. It’s the primary reason our clients do business with us, and the simplest and truest statement of IBM’s purpose in the world. In fact, three years ago, IBM employees affirmed ‘innovation that matters – for our company and the world’ as one of our three core values.”

According to the GIO, innovation is no longer invention in search of purpose, no longer the domain of a solitary genius looking to take the world by storm. Instead, innovation is increasingly global, multidisciplinary, collaborative and open.

Lesson: To create a culture of innovation, connect globally; diversify your talent and expertise; work together in new and integrated ways.

Question: How open are you with intellectual property and how often are you collaborating with your constituency base to create more value for your clients? If you could see innovation take place as a result, would you be inclined to share your interests, expertise and world view with others more often?

Steve Jobs
What would an article on innovation be without the mention of the late Steve Jobs? Because Steve is the King of Innovation as we know it, and we have witnessed the countless ways he has transformed Apple into an innovative, life-changing enterprise. One of the most humbling and inspiring talks that I discovered is Steve’s commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005. Considering all the obstacles he’s run up against and overcome, his mind stayed strong and is nothing short of brilliant. This statement sums up what I believe empowered him to be innovative each and every day of his life:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

He closes with, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”

Lesson: To create a culture of innovation, don’t live someone else’s life. March to your own drum and beat it with all your might.

Question: Are you following your heart and intuition on matters of innovation? If so, how? If not, why?

Technology enables broader innovative business model possibilities — allowing us to enter other markets and secure new capabilities, for example — and causes us to start thinking about things we couldn’t do before that we can now. That’s innovation in its purest form and coming from my heart.

Photo by Joshua Sortino on Unsplash.