Evolving from Moribund to Innovative


Most organisations are moribund! It’s a big statement that you may feel somewhat insulted by. But everyone’s high degree of interest in ‘innovation and being innovative’ supports my claim. The high level of interest would not exist if everyone had the answer.

And, if you are the CEO, it’s not your fault. It is a trend in our western society at present. We have been through a period of intense incremental change, refining and consolidating gains from the industrial and information revolutions. But it’s time for that pattern to shift again because we need to find new ways to respond to big and complex challenges like climate change, food security for 9 billion people, an aging population, the growing gap between haves and have nots …. Not only is the rate of change and the volatility driving the interest in innovation, but also the scope of the changes. What happens globally really does effect us at the local level.

You might also think of it this way – organisations that have been around a while have a culture that is rooted in the past via values that have stood the test of time. Reprioritising these values throughout an entire organisation is not an easy nor quick thing to do. But our practice in our Profound Change program, provides evidence that it is possible to do. I aim to share some key points with you about how to bring your organisation to life again. How to move from being moribund to innovative.

This article has two main sections. The first aims to help you by identifying what is the real source of innovation and then the second section is about ways you can nurture an organisational culture that enables and values innovation. Ways to bring life back to your people and your organisation.

What is the real source of innovation?

To answer this question we have to have an idea of what innovation is. This is not a simple to define.  In talking with some people involved as judges of a recent innovation prize, it was facinating to hear that it was difficult for the judges to agree on what “is innovative” or what constitutes a good innovation.

We often think of an ‘innovation’ as being a new smart phone application or piece of technology. But this is not necessarily the case.

Peter Drucker, one of the ‘grandfathers’ of modern management and corporations, and still referred to in regard to innovation, understood that “innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship. It is the act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth”.

Drucker suggests that the opportunity for innovation springs from within the enterprise and within society.

Within the enterprise and /or industry

  • unexpected occurrences
  • incongruities
  • process needs
  • industry and market changes

Social and intellectual environment

  • demographic changes
  • changes in perception
  • new knowledge

So, as much as we might think of innovation as being a brief flash of genius, it is also a process of seeking – of analysis too.  It requires a combination of leadership and management.

Innovation requires a culture that enables people to have a brief flash of genius and to speak up about that flash. And that flash of genius may come when people are working in areas about which they are passionate. It may come in conversations with others as they discuss current challenges and start bantering as they have fun exploring new ways of dealing with a challenge. Innovation in this way is a moment of conceptual insight – putting two or more ideas together in a new way.

Innovation also requires a management and leadership team that is willing to also consciously invest in locating new opportunities for innovation and then invest in trying out new ways.  ‘Trying out’ implies that some new ways will fail – innovation is not necessarily efficient! Innovation requires a longer-term view of the enterprise and it’s value creation.

Innovation then requires a culture of innovation.

A culture of innovation where passion or caring, space to explore and collaborate, the skills to collaborate, a sense of significance to make a difference in the organisation and conscious processes to develop ideas into new realities are encouraged.

These are the elements of business or organisational life that need to be valued. And for your culture to become one that is innovative, these values need to be reprioritised over the values that currently reside at the heart of your organisation. Of course there are the values that organisaitons espouse and then there are the values that are demonstrated – particulary in times of crisis. In this article, I am referring to the enacted rather than espoused values.

If your organisation, like so many, demonstrates it values ‘short term efficiency’, or  ‘not rocking the boat’, or ‘not getting it wrong’, or ‘power and status’ …. Then there is work to do.

All change starts with honesty.

How to nurture a culture of innovation

The following six points outline our approach to liberating the best people have to offer and positively influencing the sense of ‘fear’ that usually exists within organisations and also inside people’s own heads and hearts.

1.     Develop a co-created shared vision of the work place as you and your people really want it to be if the organisation is to be innovative.  Gaining a truly shared vision will deliver you the ‘buy-in’ you require. This is adaptive work and people need to participate to understand what that means for their day-to-day work.

2.     Research demonstrates that people are most creative when they work in areas of their passion and strengths. Assist your people understand what their strengths are and help them co-design their jobs so that they can use more and more of their strengths and do work they care about. (An bonus outcome of this step will also be higher productivity and improved performance.)

3.     Working to strengths requires management practices somewhat different to those developed for use when managers assume that people are more extrinsically rather than intrinsically motivated. Equip your managers to understand how to coach and use HR processes in a collaborative process to set their people up for success.

4.     Encourage your people to self actualise because the process of self actualisation as we understand it from Maslow, means that people are in the process of learning, growing and ‘changing’ all the time. As they self actualise, they also become more and more comfortable in their own skin. And this means they are more and more likely to say what they think, back their own judgement and take calculated risks to learn.

5.     Develop a capacity for learning and the individual and organisational levels. Everyone, including executives, need to have an attitude of curiosity and openness to learning.  This is the opposite to the culture of blame that is often subtly but significantly at play within many organisations. Learning to learn through experimentation is key. Trust your people. And back them in to learn.

6.     Guide people to be both inward looking and outward looking – both at the same time. The opportunities for innovation come from both sources. Encourage all teams to be reflecting and sharing observations about new opportunities they see emerging. And encourage them to experiment.

Nurturing a culture that is innovative in its nature is a Profound Change.

To move from moribund to innovative requires ‘awakening’ people.  Here is what a few say about our pervious work [link to video].

If you would like to discuss your cultural and leadership development, please contact me.