Dan Coughlin

Article Summary:

Ten practical, low-cost ways to build an innovative culture.

How To Build An Innovative Culture

Many executives say they believe in the importance of innovation, but when asked why it doesn't happen more often within their organization, they usually say, "Our culture just isn't set up for a great deal of innovation." They seem to think innovation requires a dramatic input of time, energy and money. I believe you can build an innovative culture in practical, low-cost ways. Here are ten recommendations:

1) Step away from tactics.
When you bring people together to innovate, stop doing things. Turn off the cell phones, the fax machine and the computer. Leave all planners and paperwork out of the room. Use Post-It notes and flipchart pads.

2) Put the customer on the front burner.
Innovation means finding opportunities to add value to customers. The customer needs are what matters, not yours. Make a list of what your customers need to increase their chances of achieving what they want.

3) Ask a clear, specific and value-driven question.
Have one question that you want answered. A manager of an automobile repair shop might ask, "What can we do to reduce the customer's unproductive downtime?" Asking too many questions can dilute the process of developing ideas.

4) Maximize the input.
Get ideas from as many people as possible. Invite individuals from different levels and functions within your organization to participate. Bring in current and former customers.

5) Appreciate every idea.
You never know which idea will open what door or how big the room will end up. Stay open-minded.

6) Provide an incubation period.
After the individuals have generated ideas, give them a few days away from the group to think about the customers' situation. Invariably, new ideas will develop.

7) Encourage the snowball effect.
Successful collaboration depends on merging two or more ideas together to generate even better ideas. Ask the group to look for combinations of ideas that could build on earlier ideas.

8) Clarify the filters.
Decide on the highest priority outcomes you are trying to achieve. Make sure that any idea you implement fits within the filter of impacting these outcomes.

9) Establish the swing team.
Recruit a team of seven to nine committed individuals to build a prototype of the idea and implement it on a small scale. This group swings the idea from discussion to evaluation to implementation.

10) Try the idea.
Remarkably, many good ideas never get attempted. Groups move through steps one to nine only to lose their focus before implementing. Innovation is only complete when the idea is tested in a real market situation.

Creating an innovative culture requires focused attention and the development of new habits. Both of these are well within your grasp.

As a consultant and professional speaker, Dan Coughlin works with executives and entrepreneurs to accelerate their critical business outcomes. His clients include McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Marriott, Citigroup, St. Louis Cardinals, SBC Communications, Auxeris Therapeutics, Fru-Con, McCarthy Construction and more than 70 other organizations. He specializes in leadership, management, teamwork, innovation, branding and strategy. He has more than 100 free articles on his website, www.thecoughlin company.com.

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