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Driving an innovation culture? Don’t start with the space.

What can you do to bring disruptive innovation into an established organization that has a set culture and mindset?

Often, leaders in both the public and private sector start with building a new space. They’ll spend millions of dollars on a pretty building with an open floor plan and the latest presentation technology before any other considerations — such as people or culture — are taken into account. They then expect that space to fuel the organization’s innovation magic.

Of course, space is an important element in generating disruptive innovation. It helps shape cultures by way of the activities that happen within it. But space alone does not drive disruptive innovation. Nevertheless, it’s often where corporate and government leaders start.

There’s a better way.

Instead of beginning with space, organizational leaders should consider starting with a few questions:

  • Who will be in the space?
  • What new activities will they engage in?
  • What mindsets will need to change in order to allow disruptive innovation to thrive where it previously hasn’t?
  • What culture will these new people, activities and mindsets engender?

These are all critical questions to ask and answer before an organization considers space, since the answers will almost entirely fuel the design of that space. Acquire the best talent for your organization to begin establishing and engaging in new mindsets. Then, allow them to build a strong community around those mindsets. This will lead to an establishment of a new organizational culture.

Take the stories of SAP and the Stanford as examples. In both of these organizations, the focus was on people, then process and then culture. Once those pieces started to come together, it became easier to hire more talent to change and strengthen the organizational culture. Space, in the end, amplified those elements.

Apphaus Heidelberg.png

Example of SAP AppHaus in Heidelberg.

I’d like to take a moment and dive into culture a little bit, since I have found that organizations with a strong culture are more capable of disruptive
innovation.  An organizational culture’s core ingredients are values, mission and goals. Here’s how these all interrelate:

  • The mission and goals represent your organization’s purpose, or what your organization wants to achieve.
  • An organization’s values represent why your organization wants to realize a particular achievement.
  • The stronger your organization’s culture, the stronger the articulation of how you want to accomplish your mission and goals in line with your
    stated values.

Organizations must be deliberate and articulate in stating how they want to do something — not just what they are trying to achieve in order for disruptive innovation to thrive. That’s why culture is so important.

It’s worth noting that the work of developing a strong organizational culture doesn’t happen overnight. It took SAP and the years to get to where they are. But if you break ground in this way—starting with people who, through new activities and the establishment of new mindsets realign your organization’s mission/goals and values and ultimately establish strong culture—you may find you don’t need to break ground on a new space at all.

Listen to the SAP Radio show: The Case for Space: Disrupting the Status Quo with Innovation.

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