Culture Remains the Strongest Innovation Litmus Test

Culture Remains the Strongest Innovation Litmus Test

For being members of a discipline that prides itself on discovering the unknown, innovation practitioners have a secret lust of commonplace predictability and yearn for security as much as any human being. Seeing how they too often become the mistaken and hapless scapegoats for lack of core business growth, it is easy to empathize with this longing for belonging and recognition.

Given these urges that relish job security, the illusion of a single method of innovation that solves all issues runs rampant. This religious-like adherence to new trends and methods displays an active but understandable anxiety. I love the wide range of methods and tools—and it is best to use them with situational intelligence. Becoming a fundamentalist to any one method limits an overall effort, decreasing option value and increasing a fixed-mindset where a process has to be followed simply because it is a process and not because it is additive.

Some practitioners of all methods—-Design Thinking, Doblin, SIT, Jobs To Be Done, Open Innovation, Lean Innovation, even code development methods such as Agile and its weird corporate cousin SAFE—-claim to have discovered the Holy Grail. They cling to their way so tightly that it hurts the team spirit and projects on which they work.

In reality each method has the power to add something important to an innovation practice but only if an organizational culture embraces innovation mindsets, behaviors, and methods. Culture is the true enabling agent and only power capable of embracing or rejecting change, new thinking, or new modes of work in the emerging workplace.

You can use many methods of conceive, refine, test, and ready a new service or product for the market; however, if the culture doesn’t allow non-core concepts to launch you find yourself with a soulless form of innovation theater, a corporate satire worthy of parody.

Here’s the secret to innovation…there is no secret method or formula, only what works in your culture. The more to try to standardize the formula, the less successful you’ll be. While a repeatable set of methods, innovation remains not a linear, predictable process. This is part of the value generation discovery. Try and you may, no business case has ever landed square on its projected return, especially when the concept is outside of the business norms.

I’ve seen the same front end and back end of innovation work in some cultures and fail in others. This is because culture is the most important and significant lever that determines the success of an innovation program. Without understanding the power of this lever and nurturing it, your efforts will hit the brick wall of your existing business model going 90 miles per hour.

Organizations that apply innovation methods without intentionally handling the culture-side of the equation end up embittered.

Knowing what works for the concept you’re trying to launch (after making sure it fits a real need) and knowing your culture and politics enough to persuade the organization to launch it.

Method worship just gets in the way.

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Michael GraberMichael Graber is the managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, an innovation and strategic growth firm based in Memphis, TN and the author of Going Electric. Visit to learn more.

Michael Graber




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