The 7 myths in developing an innovation culture

As more organizations seek to embrace innovation as a lever for business growth and transformation, we have noticed that some organizations still haven’t managed to create a common understanding of what innovation really means. As well as the possibilities innovation offers, and what it might involve to make it work in organizations for the longer term. This is largely due to the 7 myths we have identified surrounding organizational culture, in particular, in developing an innovation culture.

At ImagineNation™ we love playing in the exciting innovation and entrepreneurial start-up world. Because this is where we aspire to practice and teach organizations the benefits and techniques involved in applying innovative, lean and agile entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial thinking, behaviors, skills, and processes. Involving us being constantly exposed to a vast number of old and new global innovative culture consulting and corporate innovation education companies and start-ups. All of whom are offering to develop organizational innovation capabilities and cultures.

What we have discovered is that many of the quick fix, episodic, conventional, technology, and even event-based strategies and methods, are over-promising and under-delivering on their promises to clients. Especially when they promise to develop the internal innovation capability and organizational culture required to achieve business growth or transformation.

Power of organizational culture 

That’s because, as Peter Drucker famously said – “culture eats strategy for breakfast” so no matter how many of these strategies are delivered unless the real systemic and core cultural issues are diagnosed, understood and mitigated, these promises cannot, and will not be kept.

Jon Katzenbach explains this to mean “great strategies can be resisted by strong enterprise cultures” and that “A culture can be a powerful animal that counteracts and resists attempts to change, no matter how good the strategy is.”

Identifying and Unpacking the 7 myths of innovation culture

Many organizations become confused when applying basic change management principles to achieve sustainable growth and innovation outcomes. As in any emerging market, a diverse range of innovation readiness assessment tools are on also offer, making it a difficult decision to find the most aligned in-depth tool that delivers what clients need and want. This adds to the 7 myths we have identified as inhibiting true understanding of the potential and possibilities innovation offers us as a strategic and systemic lever for achieving business growth and transformation.

Here are the top seven myths we have encountered as innovation educators and transformers around organizational culture.

1. Climate and engagement surveys tell us how to develop an innovation culture.

We recently undertook extensive research to find a comprehensive and accessible online innovation culture assessment tool (and we finally found one – the OGI). We discovered that ‘almost everyone’ is fast becoming subject matter experts in organizational culture, especially in developing an innovation culture. Yet, when we questioned potential survey providers, most could not explain the differences to us between undertaking an innovation engagement or climate survey versus an innovation culture survey or diagnostic.

Our experience suggests that a climate or engagement survey sets the context for identifying and understanding how people are feeling at work.  The survey results are usually used to make people feel happier, more fulfilled and satisfied at work. Whilst it is a very important, informative and valuable assessment process, it focuses mostly on improving the way things are getting done, which means that the organizational climate is the ‘effect’ and not the cause of the organizational culture.

A culture diagnostic survey sets the context for understanding what is driving or what are the causal factors for making people think and feel the way they do. By identifying the system, and the self-sustaining beliefs, mindsets, and patterns driving the way they are behaving, feeling, thinking and believing.

It focuses on identifying the key messages that are implicit in an organization that people tend to comply with if they want to fit in and feel safe in the organization. If the culture diagnostic process is done well it identifies the core values, beliefs, and the key mindsets as the drivers behind the key messages driving these self-sustaining patterns of behaving, feelings, thinking and believing.

It is the most importantly informative and valuable assessment an organization can undertake if they are serious about delivering their strategic goals for innovation. This is because it provides the data and the innovation context that enables organizations to transform systemically the way they are doing things.

2. An ideation platform cultivates a creative and collaborative organizational culture.

One of our clients requested our help in assessing a range of different ideation platforms to find the best fit for their purpose; this gave us the opportunity to bust this second myth. We attended a number of live and online demonstrations and were amazed that some people see ideation platforms, in isolation, as the key solution to innovation.

Yet ideation platforms exist to essentially collect & collate data, and like computers, if you ‘put garbage in, you get garbage out’.

Albert Einstein says “You can’t solve the problem with the same thinking or consciousness that created it.

– Unless the receptivity and readiness for innovation are developed internally within the culture, and people feel safe and have permission to challenge the status quo, take intelligent risks, make mistakes and fail, they will not even begin to play creatively in the ideation space.
– Unless people first acquire the collaborative teaming, networking, attending, observing and the generative skill sets; including knowing how to see problems and listen from the whole system, practicing skillful inquiry and debating to create right-hand turns and inflection points creative ideas and innovative solutions cannot be co-created.

An ideation platform is a repository for collecting, collating and analyzing the ‘same thinking data’ around solving business problems and challenges, which is a valuable part of the innovation journey. If used in isolation, it will not facilitate the collaborative discovery, design of creative ideas and implement innovative solutions that can potentially add value by solving customers, people, team and organizational problems and challenges.

3. Buying a start-up or making a merger or an acquisition with one, will affect an innovation cultural change.

Busting this third myth, in the case of mergers and acquisitions, we have found that it is that the ‘most dominant’ culture that prevails in the end and it seldom happens the other way around.

Buying a sexy technology-based start-up as many Australian Banks are doing, as short term disruption strategies in the financial services sector as well as to enhance company engagement also ultimately fails to deliver on its’ promise.

Whilst an admirable and low-risk strategy, to succeed in an exciting venture of this kind, there is an opportunity to firstly;

– Develop a common understanding of their people’s current self-sustaining patterns of behaving, feeling, thinking and believing in their essentially compliance-based, conventional and inherently risk-averse culture to identify both its strengths and inhibitors.
– Strategically massage and align it to accept, merge and integrate it with the creative, passionate and unconventional start-up culture and systemically enhance the best of both to develop a united one whilst reducing the inhibitors to innovation.

Otherwise, the huge initial investment and the possibilities it offered, could be lost forever, because the organizational culture issues have not been flagged.

At a recent Fintech Meet-Up Event in my hometown, Melbourne, the CEO of one of Australia’s big four banks sheepishly admitted that the majority of the Fintech Start-Up entrepreneurs present, who consisted of mostly ex-bank employees, would not exist had the bank developed a less compliant, conventional and more receptive, safely innovation culture.

4. Quick fun-filled ‘one-off’ short term events and such as shark tanks, innovation jams and hackathons will develop an innovation culture.

This has been the most challenging myths to bust, because culturally, the corporate learning market globally habitually seeks and applies the costly short term, episodic learning interventions. These do not necessarily align with business strategy and rarely focus on building the internal capabilities to deliver growth and achieve business transformation.

Whilst these fun, experiential ‘learning by playing, doing and failing’ are creative, stimulating and exciting additions to the corporate learning agenda; they are not effective ‘stand-alone’ innovation learning or culture development solutions.

They  are only effective when designed as part of comprehensive capability building ‘blended learning’ innovation program designed to enable people to see, respond to, and solve business and customer problems creatively by;

– Truly developing the organisations internal entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship capability through targeted motivation, mindset, thinking, behaviors and specific skills training across a range of aligned online technologies, gamification processes and live business simulations like The Start-Up Game™.
– Including experiential learning activities that encapsulate retreat, reflection, and review process and facilitated debrief processes to enhance individual and team learning’s around solving real organizational problems that people value and cherish
– Including measurable integration and company-wide assimilation plans that are aligned to deliver the desired organization’s cultural outcomes.

Whilst we acknowledge that innovation requires people to ‘fail fast to learn quickly’ people need to know how to deal with failure in real life and develop the resilience and self-efficacy to bounce back and stay in the innovation game. They also need strategies that reduce their perfectionism, compliance and conventional ways of working. Just focusing on a visit to Silicon Valley or Silicon Wadi and mentoring, so popular as the ‘start-up’ learning solution is not always the best answer in knowing or learning how to innovate.

5. Adopt start-up principles and you will immediately develop an innovation culture.

One of the most challenging myths for us at ImagineNation™ as innovation educators and transformers is the number of start-ups in the innovation education space; think that developing an innovation culture is most easily done by introducing start-up concepts, principles, and techniques to the client organization.

Whilst we agree that lean and agile start-up methodologies are emerging as the new wave for achieving 21st-century organizational growth and success, we also know “that deeply embedded cultures cannot be replaced with simple upgrades, or even with major overhaul efforts. Nor can the culture be swapped out for a new one as though it were an operating system”.

Whilst we love start-up methodologies and design thinking, as key elements in the value creation process, people need to learn how to  be, think and act differently, before they use these methodologies to solve customers problems

As Jon Katzenbach states – “To work with your culture effectively, therefore, you must understand it, recognize which traits are preeminent and consistent, and discern under what types of conditions these traits are likely to be a help or a hindrance”.

6. An innovation culture is developed by taking only a risky disruptive approach to innovation.

It seems that some people are unaware that there are essentially 4 key types of innovation, which means that there is no best type, only the type that aligns best to your organizational strategy and cultural aspiration to flow with and not resist change.

Rather than forcing disruptive innovation as a ‘one fits all’ solution, to bust this myth, it’s best to research the different innovation options to make the right strategic choice.

Which is the one that fits your culture and the best one that will accelerate the business transformation process or innovation journey?

– By choosing to pursue incremental, differentiation, breakthrough or disruptive types of innovation, or a carefully chosen mix that suits your strategic goals.
– By identifying the appropriate type of innovation that enables you to best capitalize on your cultural strengths, counterbalance resistance fosters systems-wide integration and collaboration and enlists and enrolls the early adopters in your organization.

Also be developing an innovation culture that allows for safe and intentional disruption and provocation and generative debate to become part of the organizational culture.

7. Innovation offers a ‘quick fix’ function and methodologies like other past management fads like TQM and EI & incoming fads like Wellness.

Many organizations have focused their innovation efforts by developing an internal function or role, such as by designating responsibility for innovation by appointing a Chief Innovation Officer or Innovation Manager.

Whilst this is commendable, developing an innovation culture happens when an organization perceives it as a disciplined systemic process and strategic lever designed to build overall internal capability or to achieve the delivery of business growth goals or transformation.

This is done by engaging, enrolling and enabling everyone in the organization to see, respond to and conquer the problems of the 21st century in ways that people value and cherish.

Our research shows that taking a systemic approach to innovation is the most effective from long term sustainability.  There are up to thirteen dimensions that innovation can occur in organizations, as outlined by Daniel Nolan, in his article ‘The Thirteen Dimensions of Innovation’, where he describes how organizations can innovate in many areas, often in multiple areas at once.

– These can be planned, managed and implemented across an organization via a business model which is innovating how the organization innovates generates income.
– These include innovating across Products/Services, Technology Platforms, Customer Solutions, Customer Needs, Customer Experience, Communications, Processes, Revenue Generation, Management, Supply Chain, Channel, and Partnerships.

Culture is like the wind and tide of business strategy, growth, and transformation

Finally noting the wise words of Jon Katzenbach in a recent article ‘The 10 Principles of Organizational Culture’ – “To a degree, culture can be compared to natural forces such as winds and tides. These elements are there in the background, sometimes unnoticed, sometimes obvious. Endowed with immense power, they can waylay plans and inhibit progress. They can’t really be tamed or fundamentally altered. But if you respect them and understand how to make the most of them, if you work with them and tap into their hidden power, they can become a source of energy and provide powerful assistance”.

Developing an innovation culture equips you with the ultimate 21st-century tool to leverage your organization’S culture and potential to unleash possibilities and maximize opportunities.

At ImagineNation™ we provide innovation coaching, education and culture consulting to help businesses achieve their innovation goals. Because we have done most of the learning and actioning of new hybrid mindsets, behaviours and skill-sets already, we can help your businesses also do this by opening people up to their innovation potential.

Contact us now at to find out how we can partner with you to learn, adapt and grow your business in the digital age.