Supporting Innovation

supportiveGuest post, by Amanda Kaiser

If you want a thriving organization you need to innovate. If you want to innovate you have to have a culture that supports it.

In a recent discussion on ASAE’s online community Collaborate contributors talked about association innovation, and, interestingly, much of the conversation revolved around organizational culture. Innovation within an organization requires a culture that champions innovators. 

Create an environment for innovation

Innovating means taking on a responsibility, often a heavy one. For the innovator-type their motivation to innovate can outweigh the pressure to support the status quo… up to a point. This means organizations have to identify and hire staff who will naturally take on innovative projects and they need to provide the right environment for these innovators need to create.

The organizations that do this right understand that innovation doesn’t happen overnight. They understand that the path to innovation is a lot like scientific experimentation, not everything works. They also understand that innovators can’t do their best work when they are buried under piles of administrative work. They need space and time to think. As Patrick Vulgamore, Manager of Governance for the Society of Hospital Medicine says, “give them breathing room, good things will naturally happen.”

Secure support from the top to innovate

Have you ever gotten really excited by an idea and then had it quickly shot down? When this happens too often it becomes hard to champion more ideas. Support from leadership is critical to make sure good ideas continue to move forward. But this is very difficult to do. Seth Godin says in his book The Icarus Deception, “Competent people enjoy being competent. Once you are good at something changing what you do or moving to a new way of doing it can be stressful because it will make you momentarily incompetent.”

Championing a new idea is difficult indeed. Agreeing to try the untested is threatening. But even though it is hard for leaders to champion innovation, ideas and their creators, it is necessary.

If you want more innovations for your organization you will need to change your culture. Many organizations are getting geared up to explore innovation because as General Shinseki, former chief of staff for the US Army, famously said, “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”

Amanda Kaiser writes the marketing blog SmoothThePath