Sunday 23 October 2016

'It's not about encouraging innovation - you can't stop it'

Create your workspace with forward-thinkers in mind if you want innovation to thrive

Geraldine Finn

Published 07/06/2015 | 02:30

Innovation rarely occurs within a rigid or siloed structure, so collaboration is important
Innovation rarely occurs within a rigid or siloed structure, so collaboration is important

In a global environment increasingly characterised by shorter cycles of faster change, and demand for rapid product development, that old mantra 'innovate or die' has never been so true.

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It is therefore no wonder, that creating a culture of innovation is such a high priority for organisations globally. Nor is it a wonder that no proven 'one size fits all' approach to creating a culture of innovation exists. However, there is general consensus that it begins with clarity of organisational purpose. People do their best work when they truly understand, believe and are inspired by the vision of their leaders, the path the organisation is on and how they can contribute to its success.

I have observed a number of recurring themes and areas of focus when seeking to create a culture of innovation: people, environment and finally organisational systems and process. In my experience, failure to address even one of these makes the creation of a genuinely innovative culture all but impossible.


It sounds like a cliche, but attracting and retaining the best people with the right intrinsic set of motivations is critical to fostering innovation. Every single person who joins your team feeds into your company's culture and should always add to the environment you're trying to build.

From the first interaction with a candidate, the organisation must look to find talented people who, at their core, are naturally innovative and motivated to make an impact. These are people who derive as much satisfaction from making a difference as they do from going beyond what is expected of them. These are people who demonstrate curiosity, are not afraid to ask bold questions, and consider different perspectives in search of a better way of doing things.

Workforce diversity is equally important, as it introduces different perspectives to the team. Hiring whole teams in the image and likeness of a single profile is unlikely to introduce new thinking. Managers must therefore draw from multiple pools of talent characterised by differing skill sets and industry experience, as well as seeking to include individuals representing more than one national origin, gender, socioeconomic group and so on.

Once a team of diverse, talented individuals who are inspired and motivated by a common vision and purpose has been created, it is critical to support that group with an environment that empowers them to reach their fullest potential.


The ideal organisational environment will not passively support innovation, but will actively encourage and foster innovation through ongoing learning and adaptability.

At the heart of innovation lies a focus on continuous learning, development and creativity. And while the concept of a learning organisation is not new, building one requires singular focus and effort.

A supportive learning environment, sustained by effective learning processes and practices, helps to ensure your employees are constantly developing. This learning focus must be pervasive and much broader than simple training attendance and utilisation. A true learning organisation is born of strong leadership behaviours which reinforces a process of continuous learning. These behaviours also help to expand the learning horizon beyond the training room to cross-functional collaboration, interactions with customers, stakeholders, product users and more, with the result that all interactions become learning opportunities, creating a natural bias toward inquiry and curiosity that helps drive innovation.

A culture of innovation cannot exist without an openness to risk, fearless communication and adaptability to change. At Twitter, we encourage all of our employees to innovate through experimentation and to take risks without fear of repercussions, fear of taking on too much of a challenge, or the expectation of a 100pc success rate. Rather than shy away from or hide disruption, we embrace it. It shapes our future. Removing these concerns allows the team to focus on the creative process of innovation with trust and confidence.

Finally, on the topic of an environment, we must consider the physical spaces we work in. As we embrace diverse perspectives and encourage organisational-wide learning, we must also accommodate different creative approaches and learning styles.

We ensure that our team have the opportunity to work in an environment that best suits them, with different breakout areas, standing desks, collaborative spaces, areas for reflection, whiteboard walls for process mapping and visualisation, indoor and outdoor areas where people can meet, collaborate and exchange ideas and so on.

In essence, the physical environment should be designed to ensure that whatever works best for the team is accommodated.

Organisational Systems & Processes

Beyond attracting and retaining the best people to work within the right environment, it is important to create space for innovation within the systems and processes of the organisation.

Innovation rarely occurs within a rigid or siloed structure, so collaboration is an important part of any innovative workplace. Cross-functional teams that allow people to contribute to ideas and projects outside of the confines of their day-to-day job are hugely successful and ensure diverse perspectives are considered. At Twitter, we embed this in our calendar year by holding Hackweeks and Fix-It weeks where employees are given the time to focus on developing a product idea.

Our employees are also actively encouraged to ask questions, provide feedback and have the opportunity to be engaged in the process of product innovation at all times. Every employee is given access to our so-called dogfood Twitter build, allowing them to test new products and features before they go live. Many product updates have been modified or indeed originated from employee feedback and suggestions garnered through this process of test and open feedback.

And finally, at the heart of all innovative organisations lies an ability to adapt. As you create and sustain a culture of innovation, you accept that the very success of that culture will result in continuous change, which must be embraced, effectively managed and sustained.

How do you know if you've achieved a culture of innovation? It's no longer about trying to encourage, support and foster innovation, you cannot stop it.

Geraldine Finn is Senior Manager, HR & Recruiting EMEA at Twitter

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