Reflecting on the buzz and the novelty factor surrounding all things ‘innovative’, I am beginning to think we both concurrently overrate and undervalue innovation and underplay the conditions that need to be in place to enable innovation.

When we prioritise evaluation of  innovation primarily by the outcomes it delivers in the form of external impacts, we could be ignoring important positive internal organisational impacts. Many of these come from learning from failed innovations!

There could be unintended consequences of evaluating the innovation performance of organisations by only looking at their positive external impacts. This could  stifle risky experimentation that is necessary to make progress in difficult and unpredictable environments.

The question then arises, what might be the type of principles or conditions that foster innovation and learning from both failure and success in innovation? I don’t think there is a distinct set of criteria or a checklist of conditions that works for all, given the nature of innovation, but I think exploring facets of organisational culture will shed light on the innovation orientation of an organisation. Here are a few facets of this that I think might be helpful:

  • Foster senior-level leadership in innovation
  • Promote and support an innovation culture that engages staff, customers and partners
  • Create a place for safe-fail experiments
  • Protect space for learning
  • Don’t ignore the value of and the need for strengthening more routine activities
  • Use results information for learning and managing, as well as for reporting and accountability
  • Build an adaptive, co-designed measurement system that provides regular feedback to lean and make decisions to adapt innovations.