How to START and SUSTAIN an Innovation Culture

Ed Tazzia told me recently, As I’ve spoken to large companies three things seem apparent.  

  1. They recognize the need for Innovation, but have no idea how to make it happen. 
  2. They don’t lack for ideas, but seriously lack big ideas.  
  3. Their biggest problem is they can’t get their ideas to market.

The solution to all three of these challenges involves a chain reaction of three elements….

  • Leadership needs to find, filter and fast track “Big Idea” Innovation PROJECTS. 
  •  Projects need EMPLOYEES who have the confidence and capability to lead them. 
  •  Employees need SYSTEMS and tools to enable them to do the projects quickly. 

THE GREAT DEBATE is - WHERE to start….

Historically as I posted in a video recently - I’ve focused on IDEAS first.   Company leaders LOVE this approach as it fulfills their short term focus.   They reinforce their love of using projects to ignite innovation by claiming: “We need a quick win to get ….engagement… support… funding… focus.”

For nearly 40 years I’ve followed this approach - helping clients ignite big, bold, usually patentable breakthroughs.  And, while those working on the project have a transformative experience - the rest of the organization does not become engaged.  So when the project ends - the innovation culture ends as well.  And, innovation is reinforced as being about “big ideas” - not everyone, everywhere, every day - working smarter, faster and more innovatively. 

I’m beginning to believe that if we want to sustain innovation in an organization the ONLY way to do that is by focusing first on EDUCATING the entire organization.  Every every person needs to be taught a common language and system for innovating.   Then - let them loose working on the organization’s operational systems - making the systems faster, smarter and more innovative as well.   THEN and only then — ignite projects organically - by the people - working together.   

OBVIOUSLY this is a STUPID IDEA.  In today’s world getting a commitment from leadership to invest in people and systems is likely an impossibility.  But then again - maybe if we change how we talk about it we can find a way.

I’d love your ideas and reactions to this.   

I’d also like you to join me in Cincinnati at the Eureka! Ranch - as my guest (no cost) -  for an Innovation Engineering Leadership Summit - the evening of December 4 and all day the 5th and 6th.   We will use our Leadership course as the foundation for a discussion with a really cool group of people on how to ignite innovation across a culture. To learn more send me an email at or send me a message on LinkedIn.