Have you ever said to someone, “I wish you were more like (fill in the name)?

How did that go?

Not so good, right?

At least one or both of you probably became frustrated, disappointed, and maybe even heartbroken.  You learned that even though people evolve and grow, they don’t change.  The only thing you can change is your expectations of them.

Have you ever said about your company, “We will be more like (Apple, Amazon, Netflix, some other innovative company)?”

How did that work out?

Not so good, right?

You probably ended up frustrated, disappointed, and maybe even heartbroken.  You learned that even though companies evolve and grow, they don’t change.  The only thing you can change about a company is your expectations of it.

So then, why on earth do experts preach that companies must create a “culture of innovation” to be innovative?

93% of companies do not have a culture of innovation

In a fascinating global meta-study of corporate cultures, researchers identified eight cultural archetypes.  The two most common were Results (89% of companies), defined by achievement and winning, and Caring (63% of companies), defined by relationships and mutual trust.  The only culture explicitly associated with innovation was Learning, a culture defined by exploration, expansiveness, and creativity, and present in only 7% of global companies.

This means that 93% of companies globally are not innovating or that 93% have found ways to innovate and grow without having a culture of innovation.

Spoiler alert, it’s the latter.

This is excellent news (unless you’re one of the experts preaching “culture of innovation”) because it’s proof that even though you can’t change your company’s culture and create a culture of innovation from scratch, you don’t need to in order to innovate!

However, if you want your company to innovate, you can and need to do these three things:

  1. Leverage the aspects of your company’s culture that support innovation

Enablers of innovation can be found in every one of the seven cultural archetypes that don’t explicitly include innovation.  They may be overwhelmed by other aspects of the culture, but the seeds of innovation are there. You need to nurture them.

Here are some examples:

  1. Results cultures want achievement and winning, so encourage people to ask, “How can we do better constantly?”
  2. Caring cultures value collaboration and trust, so encourage diversity of perspectives when identifying and solving problems.
  3. Order cultures are methodical, so use that disciplined approach to surface and solve problems, especially those related to operational efficiency.
  4. Purpose cultures value idealism and altruism, so use those to motivate people to experiment and take risks en route to achieving a greater good
  5. Safety cultures reduce risk by planning ahead, so develop strategies and plans to respond to future scenarios.
  6. Authority cultures are decisive and bold so use that to make decisions and pivot when new information becomes available.
  7. Enjoyment cultures are fun and playful, so use that child-like spirit to dream and create new things.

2. Evolve the culture to accommodate one additional element of innovation

Just as every culture has the seeds of innovation within it, they could also benefit from at least one new behavior that stretches, but doesn’t break, the cultural comfort zone.

For example:

  • In Results cultures, learning could be considered an achievement on par with achieving a specific desired outcome
  • In Caring cultures, questioning and challenging others in a constructive way could be a valued part of the collaborative process.
  • Order, Safety, and Authority culture could encourage and even deliberately create time and space to question the status quo and consider multiple options.
  • Purpose and Enjoyment cultures could embrace decision-making and action as critical elements of exploration and contributing to a greater good

3. Start Small

Change happens slow, then fast.  Don’t start by trying to leverage and evolve the culture on a grand corporate scale. While some people will embrace what you’re trying to do, they’re likely to be scattered across the organization, islands of support in a sea of doubt, resistance, or (my favorite) malicious compliance. 

Instead, start with a function or even a team.  Enroll them in the evolution you’re trying to drive and ask them for their perspective and involvement.  Make them your partners in evolution, not just the executors of your vision.

Everyone wants change.  No one wants to be changed.

So, stop trying. Stop listening to all the experts and consultants who say you should change.  Stop trying to make your company something it’s not.

Instead, embrace your company’s culture for what it is.  Leverage the parts of it that can nurture and accelerate innovation.  Evolve small parts of it to be better at encouraging innovation.  Start with a small team of committed Evolutionaries, prove what’s possible, and watch it spread.

Who knows, maybe executives at some other company will look at yours and say, “We need to change to be more like them.”