An Inside/Out Culture of Innovation

An Inside/Out Culture of InnovationIf you work in an organization that wants a “culture of innovation” — you have two basic choices: outside/in or inside/out.

Outside/in is the most common approach. It assumes that re-engineering systems or processes is the way to go. You know, crank up the rewards, have more brainstorming sessions, increase cross-functional collaboration, buy idea management software and so forth.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you, but it’s often just a slick way of repositioning the deck chairs on the Titanic. It looks good. It’s promising. You feel like you are doing something, but the ship is still sinking.

The other approach — inside/out — is far less common. Understandably so. And why it’s less common is because it’s slower and, to a lot of left-brained business people, borders on voodoo.

The inside/out approach doesn’t so much aim for “organizational change” as it does individual change (working on the premise that an organization is nothing more than a bunch of individuals).

In the inside/out approach, each person commits to — as Mahatma Ghandi put it — to “being the change you want to see in the world.”

Ah, personal responsibility! Personal accountability! The place where the buck stops — and often starts. You! Me! And every person you work with.

It’s not about re-engineering. It’s not about new initiatives. It’s not about process or compensation or flex time or whatever.

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It’s about mindset — as in the “place” every single person in your company is coming from.

The fact is: every single person in your company already knows what to do in order to have a culture of innovation. They do. They really do. It’s common sense.

Consultants like to make it mysterious, of course, but it’s actually very simple.

Does your company’s longstanding history of crapola get in the way of each individual operating at their highest potential? Of course it does. Will refining systems and processes help? Of course it will. But the real deal is NOT a “program”. The real deal is each and every person bringing their innate wisdom to the table every single day. Their highest self. Their best self.

If you can find a way to get a critical mass of people to be committed to inside/out change, you’re 90 percent of the way there.


Simple, unfortunately, is not the same thing as “easy” — especially these days where so many of us worship at the altar of complexity.

PS: This is just Part One of a much longer rant. How to elicit/spark the “inner change” necessary to establish a culture of innovation is the 64 trillion dollar (more than the debt ceiling) question.

Your thoughts?

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Mitch DitkoffMitch Ditkoff is the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions and the author of “Awake at the Wheel”, as well as the very popular Heart of Innovation blog.

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Mitch Ditkoff




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No Comments

  1. John Maloney on August 15, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    Hi – Sorry, you or at least this blog is badly confused. “All inovation originates outside the organization.” – Peter Drucker. “Inside/out” is changing internal org practices, processes, patterns and structures to apply/force on customers. It doen’t work anymore. “Outside/in” is make the CUSTOMER the focus and locus of ALL innovation. It is rare and difficult, but becoming more important. Customers lead and drive future organizations. Do worry about the ca. 1980s notion of change or loopy solipsism. Have a radical, outside/in customer focus and the rest will take care of itself. -j

  2. Mitch Ditkoff on August 15, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    John: I appreciate your comment, but we are talking about two totally different things. By “inside/out” I am NOT talk about processes, patterns, or structures. I am talking about WHERE people are coming from — mindset and the personal ownership required for innovation to become real.

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