How Innovation Succeeds

There is widespread agreement about the cultural attributes that inhibit innovation.

  1. A bureaucratic, hierarchical, and fearful environment.
  2. Such cultures often starve innovation of resources and use incentives intended to promote short-term performance and an intolerance of failure.
  3. Only 28 percent of the senior executives in the survey said that they are more likely to focus on the risks of innovation than on the opportunities, but only 38 percent said that they actively learn from innovation failures and encourage the organization to do so as well.
  4. Even more alarmingly, only 23 percent of the employees believe that their organizations encourage them to learn from failure.

A quick initial success matters

A positive experience will make all the difference in building the organization's capabilities and confidence.

People need to see results and to participate in the change. To get going quickly and learn along the way, select an innovation theme or topic area and then create small project teams.

While you try out topics and ideas, test the most effective leadership and organizational approaches for your organization. The goal isn't to get it right the first time but to move quickly to give as many influential employees as possible a positive experience of innovation, even if a project doesn't generate profits immediately.

Teams can help build a more innovative culture

Turn selected managers into innovation leaders. Identify managers who already act, to some degree, as network brokers and improve their coaching and facilitation skills so that they can build the capabilities of other people involved in innovation efforts more effectively.

The goal is to make networks more productive.

Managers Must Build New Skills

To make a corporate culture friendlier to innovation, managers must acquire new skills to engage and lead the employees.

Many fall under the heading of leadership skills, such as coaching (as opposed to ordering) subordinates and facilitating collaboration across silos.

Embrace innovation as a Leadership Team

It's not enough for the CEO to make innovation a personal goal and to attend meetings on innovation regularly.

Members of the leadership team must agree that promoting it is a core part of the company's strategy, reflect on the way their own behavior reinforces or inhibits it, and decide how they should role-model the change and engage middle management.


McKinsey Research