The Journey towards an Innovation Culture

Innovations are a result of great ideas that are turned into opportunities in the marketplace. Great ideas and opportunities emerge from the creative collisions of a diversity of ideas and approaches. Great opportunities spring from “innovation sandboxes” that provide time and space for both individual and collective creativity to co-exist and thrive together. Unfortunately, the origination of great ideas, conversion of these ideas into opportunities and the commercialization of these opportunities happen because of talented teams. So talented teams are more important than ideas. Nurturing and developing talented teams is the starting point for innovation. 

Talent is the scarcity, not ideas. Talented teams is a bigger scarcity. Unfortunately, not all firms have the luxury of getting the best talent. In fact, great talent already have great jobs. So, the primary job of the executives is to develop talent. Developing the talent and the team right is a precursor to getting the ideas right and into the market place. Unfortunately, globally, nearly 70-80% of the workforce is disengaged. This has been a problem now for more than a decade. Don’t expect creativity and innovation from disengaged employees. Only engaged employees innovate. So, how can we improve employee engagement?
Employee engagement can be improved in two ways: (1) enable individual employee to grow and (2) provide a culture that energizes them. How can a firm enable individual employee growth? Grow your employees by educating them about innovation, giving them skills to be creative and build an innovation sandbox where they can play and use their skills. For that matter, firms that help individuals to master any skill via challenging tasks or learn new skills will gain their trust, loyalty and engagement. Individuals are engaged at an enterprise that recognizes their growth and contributions. Finally, engagement improves when employees are energized to go to work each day. That energy and enjoyment is either enhanced or diminished by the leaders that they report to and the colleagues / team they work with. This energy is a direct result of leadership and culture. 
Hence, the starting point on the innovation culture journey is to energize, engage and enable your employees. 
Jay Rao. Professor, Strategy & Innovation Babson College. Boston
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