In my years of observing many different organizations – of different sizes, different industries, and different stages of growth and development – I have noticed a few things about innovative organizations. These are the organizations that are always coming up with new ideas, new products, new ways to serve customers and add value. I have tried to boil these down to just a few characteristics.

  1. Celebrate failure: OK, that’s not really accurate. No one really celebrates failure. But they do celebrate the attempts at successful innovation. They do not consider an idea that does not end up as a rousing success as “career ending”. And they always seek to learn from these pursuits. They encourage employees to introduce new ideas and to always look at what they are doing with an eye towards doing it better.
  2. Supportive atmosphere: Innovative organizations provide an open environment with the freedom to kick around and explore ideas – even seemingly crazy ones. These offices often have white boards, flipcharts, markers, conference tables everywhere to encourage on-the-spot creativity. Meetings are usually not boring and sometimes include laughter as crazy ideas are discussed and debated.
  3. Open culture: These organizations encourage people to get to know each other across the company. After all, it’s not just a marketing person, or a salesperson, or an engineer that will bring a great new idea to market. It’s a cross-disciplinary team working together.
  4. Openness with customers: And I don’t just mean a once per year satisfaction survey. I’m talking about proactively inviting customers to talk openly about company performance and provide ideas and input into developing new products and services. Ask them to participate in product and service design, development, and testing.
  5. Market knowledge: In innovative organizations, everyone knows who the organization’s target markets are, who their customers are (and their needs), and who their competitors are. They know the organization’s products and services and how they compare to those of their competitors. They keep abreast of market trends – and the leadership team actively helps them stay up to date.
  6. Clear mission/vision: Employees of innovative organizations really understand the organization’s mission and vision – and can live within (and sometimes push the boundaries of) them. This is a result of a culture that involves them in strategic thinking. New ideas are “tested” against this strategic vision to see whether the new idea moves the organization closer to that vision.
  7. Set employee expectations: Innovative organizations expect employees to come up with good ideas. Often it’s actually built into the hiring and measurement processes. These organizations look for ways to identify prospective employees who are not just experienced and technically competent in what they do, but also demonstrate a spark of creativity, a willingness to take risks, to offer ideas, and are comfortable in an open, creative environment. These are the people who are willing to be the first to draft a document that others will review, revise, and edit. These are the people who may begin a sentence with “This may sound crazy but what if we….”. Employees are encouraged to help recruit like-minded people.
  8. Broad-perspective employees: Employees bring their different perspectives, their different talents, and different mindsets. They might come from differing backgrounds, different academic disciplines, even different industries. They are open to exploring and adapting new ideas – from almost anywhere. They also don’t feel constrained by what has been tried before.

I believe that an organization that can build this type of an organization will (more often than not) find success and lead their industry. I’d be interested to hear your opinons. Do you agree or disagree with my list? Should I add others? What has worked in your organization? Leave a comment!

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