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How can organizations foster a culture of innovation?

By Ben Snapper | July 20, 2023

Successful corporate innovation requires a culture that prioritizes learning and experimentation and supports creativity, collaboration and trust among employees.
Future of Work|Employee Experience
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Innovation is the lifeblood of any business and the driving force behind the success of many of the world's leading corporations. Yet innovation isn’t easy to achieve in large organizations. Reducing bureaucracy and increasing budgets can certainly help. But to truly foster innovation, the challenge is creating a sense of organizational purpose and a culture that encourages and nurtures innovative thinking.

A sense of purpose

Behavioral scientists have found that people are motivated to innovate when they feel that their work is making a meaningful contribution to society. This sense of purpose can be especially strong when colleagues believe their companies’ products or services have a positive impact on the world.

Autonomy and expertise equal motivation

In his book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Psychologist Dan Pink takes a somewhat similar view on motivation, arguing that people are most motivated when they have autonomy, mastery and purpose in their work. Autonomy refers to the ability to have control over one's work, while mastery refers to the ability to develop expertise in a particular area. Purpose, as discussed earlier, is about having a sense of meaning and making a positive impact.

These ideas are supported by a study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes that found employees who had a sense of purpose in their work were more innovative than those who did not. Additionally, they found that employees who were given autonomy and the ability to develop their skills were more likely to develop innovative ideas.

Do your employees have a sense of purpose? If not, think about why. And consider what employees might need to get that feeling?

Fostering an innovative culture

Another way to support innovation in a large organization is to establish a culture of innovation. Gary Hamel, a management consultant and author of the book Leading the Revolution, argues that companies that foster a culture of innovation are more likely to be successful at innovating. This culture is characterized by a willingness to take risks, a focus on learning and experimentation and a willingness to challenge the status quo.

Psychologist Teresa Amabile has conducted extensive research on the role of creativity and innovation in the workplace. Amabile argues that one of the most important factors in fostering creativity and innovation is a supportive work environment. This includes a culture of trust and openness as well as opportunities for collaboration and communication.

These insights and theories about innovation are further supported by research conducted by McKinsey & Company, which found that companies that had a culture of innovation were more likely to be successful at inventing new ideas, processes and products.

Organizations can create a culture of innovation by encouraging employees to find new solutions to existing problems or to fill a need in their specific field or function. A workforce with the autonomy to think “outside of the box” and ideate, collaborate and experiment is more likely to discover inventive solutions to problems. Individual employees who see their ideas incorporated into useful tools and services that benefit clients or colleagues tend find more meaning in their work – a larger sense of purpose.

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