How To Build A Culture Of Innovation

February 11, 2021
Posted in Innovation
February 11, 2021 Jamie Notter

This post originally appeared on

I hear a lot of leaders lamenting the fact that they don’t have enough innovation in their companies, but I don’t see as many methodically changing their operations to make innovation happen. This problem boils down to two things: leaders misunderstand what innovation is and, even when they grasp the concept, they ignore the role of culture in making it a reality.

On the definition side, leaders tend to skew one of two directions in their misunderstanding of innovation. They either see it as some kind of mysterious magic, where brilliant people like Steve Jobs work in secret for a long time and then miraculously announce the iPod. (That’s wrong — the work of innovation is well known and accessible.) Or they see it simply as change or doing things differently. (If that were true, Jobs would have just released a better CD player.) The essence of innovation is change that unlocks new value.

Changing your marketing tactics might generate more sales for you, but that’s not innovation. That value was sitting within your reach the whole time. Innovation is about unlocking value that you can’t reach by playing by the established rules of the game. Uber didn’t beat taxis and limousines by buying cars, hiring drivers and running that business better than the competition. They employed a series of innovations involving smartphones, GPS and — most importantly — the use of personally owned vehicles to unlock tremendous value that was previously unreachable for anyone in that industry.

Of course, not all innovation has to be as category-shattering as Uber or the iPod, but even on a smaller scale, imagine the gains you could realize if your people were routinely unlocking new value as part of the work they do. Here’s where culture comes in. The process of unlocking value requires a number of concepts and practices that are actually quite well known (creativity, experimentation, prototyping, etc.). If your culture does not value the concepts and practices of innovation, it’s not going to happen.