It’s easy to say Public Service organizations need to be innovative but creating and supporting a culture that values innovation is not simple. An innovation culture values and rewards ideas with the belief that those ideas will create a better tomorrow for both the organisation and society.

This is nevertheless extremely challenging; disruption that rocks the very core of the organisation is tough. As the core functions, processes and practices are embedded throughout the entire organisation, often there is an unwillingness to make changes as the shift is likely to result in things becoming temporarily worse before they get better; and for leaders it is a risky endeavour to strive for innovation when maintaining the status-quo is safer and rewarded.

There are three attributes essential for creating an innovative culture:

  1. Ambition – Having an overall ambition of innovation creates the drive to implement change. If leaders value innovation and ideas are rewarded by the organisation, then people are more likely step up. If leaders are driven to change rather than maintain stability, then change becomes the norm.
  2. Conviction – Once there is a good idea there needs to be conviction that the idea will be successful. To drive the idea forward, get buy in, be embraced by others and develop that idea into a plan. Maintaining conviction in the face of ambivalent leadership is one of the biggest barriers to innovation.
  3. Entrepreneurship – Entrepreneurship is the ability to create value from an idea, it is needed to shape the idea into a viable business proposition. An idea is only good if it can be implemented in a way that can be approved and funded.

So now all you need to do is wait for a good idea to come along right? Wrong.

Creating new ideas is one of the hardest challenges; whilst the best ideas don’t always come from a process, they are more likely to emerge if you have an established innovation culture. And once the idea is there, you must have the means to analyse, develop, assess, validate and scale it into a business proposition.

There are several ways ideas can be fostered within the organisation:

Formal Ideation – Ideation can be achieved through workshops, typically using Design Thinking techniques. The principle of Design Thinking is to bring together a diverse ecosystem of people creating and evolving ideas collaboratively. Within Design Thinking there are various strategies to rethinking problems, including:

  • Challenges – What are the challenges that we are facing today?
  • Parallel Innovations – What innovations are working in other businesses and industries?
  • What if? – What would be possible if we had no constraints?
  • Outside-in – Looking at the problem from the outside in, what does the customer want?
  • Ecosystem – Who should we involve from which organisations to solve this?

Design Thinking delivers the most value when all perspectives are considered at the same time to validate and test ideas.

Informal Ideation – Some of the best ideas are likely to be eureka moments where a new idea emerges randomly. With the right innovation culture people are encouraged to think about change and ways to improve.

Some of the same techniques from formal ideation also work – thinking about current challenges, reading about ideas that are working in different industries, thinking about how to apply new technologies to your industry.

Collaborative Evolution – Discipline and structure are required to define an idea, and this calls for experience and methodology. The idea needs to be developed and validated to ensure it can be implemented practically and efficiently. Thought needs to be given to the customer experience, internal staff, processes, value chain, operating model and systems. Collaborative evolution should include prototyping and testing – you don’t know all the implications of the idea without testing and validation.

A good leader is someone who encourages and develops ideas – challenging and encouraging their people and creating the right structure to transform their ideas into something practical. Do you have first-hand experience of creating a culture of innovation? How are ideas generated in your organisation? Please leave a comment below.

Other parts of this series:

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