Creating an innovation culture: 5 examples of how it’s done

illustration of paper airplanes on a blue background for innovation culture

Some businesses make innovation look easy. While most of us are struggling to find the right idea, certain brands (you know who you are, Apple, and yes, we’re jealous of you) seem to have everything together—steady streams of new products, never-before-seen branding concepts, and serious creative magic.

The untold story behind today’s most innovative brands, however, is what happens behind the scenes. While success stories are plentiful, what most people don’t see is the amount of trial, error, and learning that goes into setting up workflows, empowering employees, and figuring out initiatives to prioritize. Regardless of whether you’re a part of an established company or two-person startup, the task of bringing new ideas to market is hard.

Success with building an innovative culture boils down to one simple and completely unsexy (at least to most of us) word: process. The following videos will show you what that process looks like for 5 very different companies.

1. How Adobe Funded 1,000 Innovative Experiments

TLDR: Innovation requires a level playing field to succeed.

With a 20-year-career as a serial innovator, entrepreneur, and founder, Mark Randall has fielded over a dozen products which combined have sold over a million units and generated over $100 million. As an inventor, he holds 10 U.S. patents.

As VP of creativity at Adobe, Randall took on the challenge of creating a culture that supports experimentation. In this talk, you’ll learn how the software giant funded every single employee-nominated product idea—no questions asked.

2. How Etsy Drives Continuous Change at Scale

TLDR: By taking smaller steps, organizations can minimize risks associated with making a change and allow innovation opportunities to emerge.

Innovation is a process of continuous learning and improvement. As we learn more about our customers, target markets, and even our own capabilities, we become equipped to offer solutions—and to improve upon the solutions that we’ve already brought to market.

In this talk, Senior Engineering Manager John Goulah explains how small, frequent, and continuous changes to the production website enabled Etsy to iterate quickly and experiment with new features rapidly. You’ll learn how to minimize risk in introducing new ideas by taking smaller steps forward.

3. How to Build an Innovation Culture That Outsmarts Perfection

TLDR: If we want our teams to feel empowered, we need to focus on what we do as much as what we say.

While founders have a tolerance for failure, most employees don’t. The thought of putting a perfect track record in jeopardy for a business experiment can feel daunting. That’s why Seppo Helava, co-founder and creative director at gaming startup Wonderspark, took careful steps to ensure that his teams felt empowered.

In this talk, Helava shares some of the lessons he learned in creating a culture that celebrates, mitigates, and thrives upon risk.

4. How Intercom Jumpstarts Its Product Strategy

TLDR: Innovation isn’t about the idea–it’s about how that idea stands as a product.

In organizations of any size, one of the biggest challenges to innovating is simply getting started. Even when we have a strong understanding of our customers and what needs are going unmet, it can be challenging to put our ideas to paper.

In this talk, Intercom co-founder Des Traynor explains how organizations can define cohesive product strategies and put their ideas into action.

5. How Comcast Runs Its Innovation Center

TLDR: Bureaucracy forces us to become more strategic, empathetic, and laser-focused.

Established companies often have innovation teams dedicated to developing new products and new markets. But even those can be attacked by what Preston Smalley of Comcast calls the antibodies of big companies.

Bureaucracy may feel like an adversary, but it can actually become our best asset. Why? Because it forces us to connect the dots between established processes and new opportunities. By walking the line between these two worlds, through innovation, we bring new initiatives closer to our businesses.


Innovative Cultures: A Team Effort

Entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship are, by definition, risky business. If you’re struggling to create a more innovative culture, remember that you are not alone. We’re all in this together, and through a process that enables learning, we’ll be inspired to grow.

This post was written by Ritika Puri, resident storyteller at The Lean Startup Conference.

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