Moving Beyond the Mission Statement - How to Create a Culture of Innovation

With Disruptive Technology and Influencers, 'Innovation' and 'Creativity' shouldn't be confined to the wall in reception

It was one of those rare moments of candour you get when dealing with senior management. “I know that our mission statement talks about innovation and creativity,” an executive once hesitantly told me. “But we really don’t want people thinking outside the box. We just want to make the box cheaper.”

Translation? She wasn’t really interested in innovation and creativity. She just wanted to keep costs down. What this conversation demonstrated to me was that for many individuals and organizations there is no clear understanding about what innovation and creativity mean in a business sense and there is a fear attached to new ideas.

In 2002 the Innovation Network did an interesting survey. They gathered up the mission statements from the Fortune 500 companies and found 88 per cent had either the word “innovation” or “creativity” in them. They then did a survey of those organizations that had those phrases as part of their mission statements and found less than five per cent actually had programs in place to make innovation or creativity part of the culture. So why do organizations think it is important enough to put on the wall in reception, but not on the competency model in human resources?

Beyond Edward Debono's 6 Thinking Hats or a host of other programs, the problem most organizations have in translating innovation and creativity from paper to practice is there is no real understanding about what the terms really mean. A few years ago, I was sitting on a panel with a consultant for a large training organization. The topic was creativity and this organization was launching a new training product that was designed to tie creativity to the bottom line. It created a very complex program that was designed to ensure “bad ideas weren’t expressed.” I asked them how they separate a good idea from a bad idea. “Bad ideas,” the consultant said, “just annoy people.” Well, we would not want any ideas that might annoy people. “Besides, our creativity is tied into the bottom line,” the consultant continued. “People come up with an idea that gets approval. They get all the resources they need and then they measure the result, put it on their review and they are held responsible for it. Consistently what we have found is that there is a positive bottom-line effect.” If my job was on the line for an idea I created, and I got all of the resources I needed for its completion, you could bet money I would make sure that it at least appeared to be successful. Leave it to consultants to create an anti-creativity creativity program where people feel limited to only express some arbitrary standard of “good” versus “annoying” ideas. In this situation, people will limit the flow of ideas to ensure they are not labeled as “silly.”

Click here to read Part 2 of Beyond the Mission Statement and What You Can Do