Leading a Culture of Innovation and Creativity

How can you make your organization more innovative, adaptive, and creatively competitive? After studying 200+ companies, global design firm IDEO has identified six essential qualities to drive innovation and creativity.  IDEO’s David Aycan shared a framework around these qualities, the data behind them, and stories of companies working hard to develop the culture, processes, and habits that drive innovation.

If you operate in the field of innovation or design, you are familiar with IDEO’s “User-Centered” design process and their earlier work with companies like Apple helping to design the first computer mouse and a “Grid” notebook style computer.

 

 

IDEO’s creative process experienced a shift with the on-boarding of anthropologist Jane Fulton Suri. The practice of observing before coming to a solution became a critical part of the design process. Another key strategy employed by IDEO was the pairing of business savvy thinkers and designers. This strategy helped them move into the realm of economics, making sure that the products they designed were marketable and desired.  IDEO operates under the belief that through design and prototyping there can be a greater understanding of what and how a solution should make an impact.

IDEO experienced growth by helping companies with Organizational Design. They have a passion for helping clients get over paralysis and have benchmarked hundreds of creative organizations and looked at factors that impact creativity. Here are the six essential qualities IDEO has identified to drive innovation and creativity for organizations:

Quality #1:  Purpose.

What to work on and what not to work on is a key element of purpose. The questions that need to be asked:  Is it useful? Does it help? Are we passionate about it?  Providing clarity on the purpose seeking process, Aycan shared the story of a large e-commerce company in Europe called Zalando. The company was struggling to find out what’s next for their organization. With the help of IDEO, they created a “Gallery Style” event that engaged all employees to uncover likes, dislikes, attitudes, and perceptions. This event helped the company discover that employees considered the organization a full member of the fashion industry and no longer a player in the start-up world. Through this, their purpose statement was born…”Fashion for the good of all”  with the goal to be a sustainable “Zero-Waste” organization. Aycan advises to “Use purpose as a prime factor in all major decisions it’s why purpose exist and organizations that have a clearly defined purpose are 20% more likely to achieve success.”

Quality #2:  Looking Out.

“Don’t get stuck on internal business like politics and attitudes. Connect with your users more than monthly.”   When “looking out”, Aycan says that companies have a 25% greater chance of being successful when insights are created more frequently. He shared a case study on LA County voting machines. There are 5 million registered voters in LA County.  The goal: make voting more accessible and intuitive. 1960 was the last time the process was improved. Voters were being excluded especially those with handicaps such as hearing, sight and language barriers. IDEO dove into these issues by talking to citizens and taking active videos of the voting process. Bernie Zorey, a blind man shared “I didn’t vote because I did not want to be a burden on the polling place officials.”  Another blind woman said she had to trust that polling officials were pulling the right vote for her. This research emphasized how important it is to “look out” and observe a variety of people during research.

Quality #3:  Experimentation.

There is a problem with looking at hundreds of ideas or challenges.  Aycan suggests that an organization should explore and test 5 ideas in parallel. Organizations that experiment before implementation are 50% more likely to experience successful outcomes. He shared the term “Cognitive Laziness”, meaning the brain is wired to protect ideas over time and after a while of this, it can slow down idea generation. The solution to this? Keep ideas fresh and don’t let them sit. The objective is to keep ideas flowing, experiment, and have three more ideas in mind before asking for feedback.

Quality #4:  Collaboration.

Collaborate across teams is key, and organizations that exercise this are 38% more likely to have successful outcomes versus those that employ a “waterfall” or linear approach. Exploring collaboration, IDEO created a “Co-Lab”; an “unholy alliance” of those who were teams but were really meant to work together. The goal was to leverage different skill sets, for example; Financial and Internet of Things groups came together to renew energy certificates on a blockchain or open innovation platform.  Energy companies were not excited about this, but teams wondered “Who might bring a different perspective?”

Quality #5:  Empowerment.

Another quality Aycan suggest is making problem-solving tools and skills available across an organization. Companies need to be transparent, fair and have a method that identifies tension and suggest improvement. Leaders of organizations need to provide autonomy and clarity of this process and foster an environment of support. When an organization makes it OK to challenge the status quo, they are 70% more likely to be successful. When communication is clear, and workers feel empowered high energy, goodwill, and project motivation will come naturally.

Quality #6: Refinement.

Organizations must keep the thread of vision alive.  Aycan shared the story of a city in Peru that was in desperate need of a better public-school system. Paying private school tuition was out of reach for most people in the area, so they wanted to emulate one of their higher-performing public schools into a school that more students could attend.  Some of the challenges they faced were the high cost of real estate, difficulty in attracting good teachers, the uncertainty of what technology to employ, and how to scale the system. IDEO was approached to help create an adaptive organization that can regenerate and constantly evolves.

In his closing statements, Aycan challenged the audience to think about:

  • What matters to you?
  • What makes your team different?
  • Create 5 to 7 design principles can constantly revisit them.
  • IDEO is successful because everyone was empowered by David Kelly
  • Looking Out need to be leveraged.
  • Rethink the purpose.
  • Reflect on you and your team’s strengths.
  • Identify areas for improvement.
  • Define a way on how to measure collaboration or creativity
  • Leverage teams or people, challenge them to think differently in order to identify hotspots

 

Written by Chris Lapata and based on a session at SXSW by David Aycan of IDEO.