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Implementing an innovative culture in a company is a commonly pursued, yet a highly elusive endeavor. The disparity on how to measure culture and innovation is at the heart of the challenge. The reality is an innovative culture is curated and not just launched. The intangible nuances of shaping a culture is dependent on the reality of the company culture today, combined with the needed pace and acceptance of change. To create a culture of innovation, you must align with the realities of the company while creating the space and safety to take risks and evolve.

Vision and Purpose

An innovative culture will thrive if there is a clear vision and purpose to pursue. The vision and purpose of a company is the true north giving the organization permission to explore beyond the core it operates in today. The vision and purpose should be aspirational yet aligned. It should inspire the organization to do what it does every day, while making the trade offs necessary to move forward. Without a strong vision and purpose, the company will settle for the status quo and squash efforts to innovate beyond what exists today.

Safe Zones to Explore and Create

The most common enemy to an innovative culture within a company is the real (or perceived) focus on short-term results. This is a reality that will always exist, so companies need to find ways to deliver on short-term results while protecting long-term disruptive pursuits. Creating “safe zones” to explore, create and pursue innovative and disruptive efforts is a necessity for an innovative culture. This could take the shape of protected time, space and/or mechanisms where teams not only have permission to put aside short-term thinking, but are expected to do so. This needs to be beyond a token meeting, but sincere methods of making it safe to innovate.

Leadership and Commitment

Having a culture of innovation is impossible without sincere commitment from the leadership. This could organizationally take shape in many forms, but at the most senior levels the leadership teams must give the space and reward the behaviors that nurture this desired culture. This should be reinforced by having a senior leader that “owns” and curates the process and culture of innovation with the understanding this culture transcends any one function. Commitment from leadership could further take form with committed resources, but must have the commitment to create space (physical or virtual) and reward the pursuit of innovative efforts.

Process and Metrics

Innovation is not exclusively owned by one person or function, but should be curated to cross-organizational boundaries. A culture of innovation embraces a robust process that is multifunctional, encouraging creativity while embracing rigor. Likewise, having metrics that reflect the realities of the market while embracing not only the output of the process, but also encourages diverse inputs is vital to fuel innovation.

A culture of innovation is an elusive pursuit that is sometimes made overly complex and many times not valued. Understanding the nuances unique to each organization and that one size does not fit all is fundamental when shaping culture. Strategic alignment, leadership support and cross-functional execution are the critical elements of shaping a culture of innovation. Nurturing the environment to make it safe to explore and disrupt is ultimately what will drive success.

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Arguably one of the most knowledgeable intrapreneurs around, Alex Gonzalez has helped lead transformative innovation and build growth processes for the likes of GE and Equifax, among many others. Today he’s the founder and managing director at Creative Growth Ventures, where he splits his time advising, training and consulting with executives, corporate innovation teams and high-growth startups.