Innovations require a creative field of tension – for which managers must provide the framework. The clowns and fools put the organization to the test and stimulate a process that invites diverse expressions of opinion and raises previously undiscovered ideas »out-of-the-box«. Innovations need diversity – and dealing with the Till Eulenspiegels in a company is often the touchstone by which the actual degree of »diversity« can be measured.
The attitude within the company is the breeding ground on which innovations can flourish – or dry up. You should ask yourself these questions:
- Which mindset promotes innovation?
- How can I promote this innovative mindset in my company?
What is a mindset?
The »mindset« describes the attitude and basic assumptions of a person – or even an organization. The person is often unaware of many of these assumptions. At the same time, they have an essential influence on the person’s thinking and acting. The mindset can be understood as a relatively stable basic attitude, which on the one hand is fluid, i.e. changeable – but on the other hand also shows a certain stability over time and in different contexts.
Which mindset promotes innovation?
Surely there is not only one mindset that optimizes innovation. However, certain patterns can be identified. With a strong engineering tradition, Germany has all the prerequisites to be innovative. But the prevailing attitude is primarily process-optimizing: efficiency before exploration. Reliability before speed. Error-free before early availability. Technical optimization before satisfaction of customer needs. According to the motto: Let the customer wait rather than offer him an unfinished product. Offer the customer what is technically mature rather than what she wants.
However, the more dynamic markets require a balance between technical excellence and innovative customer orientation. The triumph of agile methods in development and production speaks a clear language. – But what kind of »innovation mindset« is needed?
Useful basic assumptions that fire up an innovative mindset
In innovative companies, management and employees often share the same basic convictions – the golden »mindset nuggets«.
Innovation mindset nugget 1: a benevolent and optimistic image of humanity
A company can only grow and develop innovations if the people in the company can also grow and develop. This requires deep-rooted trust in people’s learning and development abilities as well as their potential – and especially when it comes to the employees of the company.
Innovation mindset nugget 2: the company benefits from the creative tension created by diversity
Innovations are created through new perspectives – and through the dialogue between them. Diversity within the company makes this variety possible. A colorful mix of people of different genders, ethnic backgrounds, sexual identities, age groups or even disabilities increases the creative tension and thus the innovative strength of a company compared to pure »monocultures«. Rüdiger Müngersdorff from the management consultancy Synnecta goes one step further and says:
„A company can only credibly serve the market that it also represents internally.“
Innovation mindset nugget 3: There is an innovation-promoting force in connection and exchange
The connection and the exchange of people among each other are in general more beneficial than working in a closed room on your own. Individual flashes of inspiration are fired and receive their nourishment only through this kind of cooperation.
This attitude affects the understanding of meetings. What is the purpose of meetings – which usually require a lot of precious time? In this sense, meetings are not primarily there to »get things done«, but to promote exchange. On the other hand, the »processing« of tasks often works much better individually or in small working groups.
Innovation mindset nugget 4: A forgiving error culture and the belief in iterative learning
There is seldom a greater discrepancy between the proclaimed and the actual reality in companies than when dealing with mistakes. Those who understand tolerance of error only as a truism, lack the understanding of a learning organization. Because learning and making mistakes are inextricably linked. The mistakes of the individual are a sign that the organization as a whole is learning. The individual failure, the collective misunderstanding or the systemic failure of an entire organization – all these are ultimately opportunities for improvement that make the entire system »fitter« in the evolutionary sense: they help the company to better adapt to the current conditions. Unfortunately, a zero-defect policy also means a zero chance of innovation.
Innovation mindset nugget 5: trust in the unfinished
Presenting unfinished ideas and concepts is not a common practice in all companies – but it is in innovative companies. The advantages of trusting the unfinished as the first practical basis for discussion is a common approach in innovative companies, not only since the success of agile methods such as Scrum, which test products in minimal versions (MVP – Minimal Viable Product) on the market at an early stage. In the agile product development method Design Thinking, the only half humoristic slogan is that you need to be ashamed of your first presented prototype – otherwise it is already too elaborated and thus presented too late. Perfectionism is the death of the ability to innovate. Many companies also have a devastating safety culture, where innovative ideas do not even see the light of day for fear of feedback.
Innovation mindset nugget 6: trust in intuition and emergent solutions
Hard facts are the dream of many managers and engineers. But numbers, data, and facts are often not the starting material from which new innovations are forged. Rather, the big and seemingly unrealistic dreams and inner images frequently inspire the »Gyro Gearloose« within us and the ambitious inventor to innovate. Because with an overly strict »measure it or forget it logic«, every initiative is strangled to death. In contrast, it takes the inner conviction that solutions can be found when the solution space is prepared accordingly. It is helpful to allow intuition and emergent phenomena. This requires a deep inner conviction that »the solution will reveal itself«, once the framework is in place in which everyone can give their best.
Innovation mindset nugget 7: leaders as hosts
Innovative companies are characterized by a new understanding of leadership. Managers in these companies see themselves as hosts who issue invitations to their employees – and do not just give orders. With the attitude of a hostess you invite people to make a contribution and give their best. And with innovations it is like with a good party: One cannot force it. However, it is easy to make sure that the party gets bad. Translated this means: If you want people to get fully involved, then you make sure they feel safe and comfortable – and trust in the intrinsic motivation and initiative of the people.
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