key to successful culture innovation

The Key to a Successful Culture of Innovation

In order for companies to develop a culture of innovation, the people involved in innovation (from the practitioners to the executives to the broader employee base) must be able to communicate effectively about innovation — and they aren’t.

We recently conducted a survey of our global panel of innovation practitioners about the challenges associated with communicating about innovation in their companies. One topic we explored was the prevalence of companywide definitions for innovation-related terms. Sixty-eight percent of the innovation practitioners we surveyed claim that innovation is at least a top-3 priority for their companies. Despite the apparent importance of innovation, there is little evidence of companies taking the time and effort to develop a common language of innovation that cuts across the organization.

We found that most companies lack consistency in defining key terms associated with innovation, instead relying on individuals (and in some cases, teams or departments) to come up with their own definitions, which may be different from those employed by others. With regard to the point made above, only 29% of innovation practitioners we surveyed reported that their company had a clear and consistent definition of innovation that applies across the entire organization. Firms are even less likely to have company-wide definitions for newer terms like open innovation, co-creation, and crowdsourcing; this creates an environment where misinterpretation and confusion can flourish.

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29% of innovation practitioners we surveyed reported that their company had a clear and consistent definition of innovation that applies across the entire organization.

We also found that Innovation communication breakdowns are common and frequent. Two out of three innovation practitioners (67%) report having had difficulty communicating internally about innovation within the past year. That, on its face, is a problem that should prompt action since these innovation practitioners are most directly involved in the innovation process. However, this data likely understates the problem, because it only counts the communication issues the innovation practitioner is aware of. In all likelihood, there are more innovation communication issues happening between individuals elsewhere in the organization that do not involve the practitioners.

That’s bad, but it gets worse. It turns out that for most of these people, communication problems with regard to innovation occur on a regular basis. Eighty-nine percent (89%) report having communications issues at least once a quarter. As shown in the figure below, nearly half (45%) experience these difficulties on a monthly basis, and 16% do so weekly!

For most of these people, communication problems with regard to innovation occur on a regular basis.

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The importance of a common language of innovation increases as companies focus more attention and resources on innovation. Innovation is hard enough on its own. Companies don’t need to stand idly by and let unnecessary barriers fueled by poor communication undermine their innovation efforts.

Lastly, our research shows that the 67% of innovation practitioners who report having experienced problems communicating about innovation over the past year have encountered a variety of disruptions to the innovation process. Specifically, 55% of these practitioners report experiencing a significant delay in moving an innovation initiative forward, which can mean missing key market opportunities. About one-third (32%) of these practitioners claim that communication issues resulted in a waste of financial resources. And a majority (57%) of this group report that these issues resulted in a waste of employee time, which can dissuade employees from participating in the future innovation initiatives.

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The problem with poor innovation communication is clear, but the solution is readily available. As laid out in more detail in our report, a consistent language of innovation can help improve communication and overcome these unnecessary barriers to the innovation process, and help build a stronger culture of innovation within your organization.


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Image credit: alphaspirit / 123RF Stock Photo

Editor’s Note: This article has been repurposed from Innovation Excellence, with permission.

Doug Williams, Chief Research Officer and Principal Analyst, leads the development of Innovation Excellence Research. Doug is the primary author of IX Research‘s syndicated research reports, and is responsible for the development of the IX Research Panel and IX Custom Research lines of business. A former analyst at both Forrester Research and JupiterResearch, he launched and led Forrester’s innovation and co-creation practice for product strategy professionals. He authored 36 highly rated Forrester Research reports on innovation, open innovation, and co-creation, and was the primary author and developer of Forrester’s Open Innovation playbook. Doug tweets from @DougWilliamsMHD and @IXResearch.

  • Anita Mountain

    Thank you for the article which I found interesting. Whilst communication about innovation can be problematic I think communication in general is a major issue in many organisations. I am in the business of improving communication myself and I find many avoid issues they find difficult i.e. are conflict avoiding. Whereas when people develop communication skills, conflict occurs less often as people know how to approach others and if there is conflict they are conflict resolving.

  • Juan Mario Inca

    Really interesting Doug, thanks?!?

    I think that you would be really interested in some of the most cutting-edge research that I have come across explaining crowds, open innovation, and citizen science.?

    And you may also enjoy this blog about the same too:

    Powerful stuff, no?

  • Emeri Gent [Em]

    What were the clear and concise definitions that this research utilized for idea, innovation, invention, open innovation, co-creation and crowdsourcing?

    If there is an standard for these terms, I would like to know who the authority is who is accountable for this standard.


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  • Doug Williams

    Thanks for sharing, Anita. Certainly, communication is a major issue across all parts of the enterprise. Innovation is one of those topics that is buzzword-worthy today, but what the research demonstrates is that failing to lay the groundwork with a language of innovation creates unnecessary barriers to accomplishing innovation. In contrast, the vast majority of companies have clearly defined their mission, vision, and the corporate values they want to adhere to, and the survey respondents indicate that this helps them stay aligned with the corporate strategy. A little effort spent developing a language of innovation can provide similar benefits.

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