Innovation in the Workplace, Part 2: Organizational Culture

In my last article about innovation, I briefly mentioned what people need in order to be more consistently innovative: They need curiosity, the ability and room to ask great questions, space for experimenting (using the scientific method), a safe environment in which to fail, time to reflect and imagine, room for collaborative relationships, and time to play. So let me ask you this: Does your company offer its employees an organizational culture that allows for all that? I want to take a closer look at each to impress upon you how your company might need some major organizational culture initiatives to create a workplace where people can truly be more innovative.

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People are naturally curious about things, but we’ve been trained to shake it off and get on with the task at hand. How many times have you come across something in your work that has made you curious? You might sit back for a moment and begin to wonder about it, until you look at the clock and your long to-do list. You shake yourself back into the reality of needing to get work done right now. After all, you’ve got to keep your nose to the grindstone if you’re going to get that bonus at the end of the year. Who’s got time for what feels like “idle” curiosity? But that’s where we have it all wrong. It is exactly in those moments of what we think of as “idle” curiosity that innovation has its greatest chance of occurring! That’s the catch-22 of it all. We train the curiosity, and therefore the innovation, right out of us in the name of greater productivity right now. But there’s a huge opportunity cost in doing so, which is the innovation that might have resulted in even better productivity.

Asking Great Questions

Besides the fact that formal schooling often takes away people’s ability to ask great questions because education tends to emphasize providing the right answers over asking good questions, our workplace cultures often do the exact same thing. Don’t ask questions, just do your job, right? But what if there’s a better way to do the job? You have to give people the room to ask questions – to question assumptions, to shake things up, to challenge the status quo. If your workplace culture doesn’t consciously foster those kinds of critical thinking skills, how can you expect people to be innovative?


In a perfect world, a great idea would just be successfully implemented. The problem, of course, is that you don’t know if a great idea will really work or not. Company’s that have a more risk-adverse culture tend to not give people room to experiment with an idea to see if it might be good. And I’m not talking about major inventions here, I’m talking about even modest revisions to a business process. These are things worth experimenting with!

Safe Environment for Failure

No one hits a home run every time, and if people are vilified when something doesn’t work out, it just kills innovation – literally stops it dead in its tracks. You can’t afford to have that happen in the 21st century. Encourage people to fail – and of course to learn from it as well. If people believe they can fail without repercussion, they’ll be much more likely to try new ideas.

Time to Reflect and Imagine

Curiosity, asking questions, experimenting – all of this requires some space and time to reflect on what’s happening in the organization, what’s changing, what it means, and imagine new responses to it. People without time to reflect and imagine are doomed to repeat the same errors over and over again, won’t develop personally or professionally, and won’t be happy. That’s not the kind of situation you want in your workplace!

Collaborative Relationships

Does your workplace encourage people getting together and working on things together outside specific assignments or task-oriented teams? How and when do people from different departments get to mingle and potentially collaborate? You’ve got to help people realize the value of collaborating with others to see innovation blossom in your workplace.


Is your workplace fun? If not, you’re missing out on one of the most important pieces that enables innovation. People have to enjoy themselves to be innovative.

I hope you now have a greater appreciation for the deep work that may be in store for your company if you’re serious about fostering innovation in the workplace. As you can see from what I’ve mentioned above, you may need major organizational culture shifts to create an environment in which people can innovate. And it will be worth every ounce of effort you put into it!

January 27, 2016   Updated :November 16, 2016   culture, innovation, organizational culture   

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