Innovation… what an intriguing word. Bringing the flavors of newness and excitement, it’s a word I often hear in my leadership coaching work. How can our company be more innovative? How can innovation be embedded in all that we do?

These are the questions many leaders are asking themselves, desperately seeking solutions. Let’s start at the best place, by asking the question WHY? Why do you want to be innovative? Is it the value add you want to create for your customers, for the people you serve? When a leader’s heart is in the right place, the solution to the demanding ‘How to’ questions will spontaneously emerge, but only in the right environment.

Recently, I was honored to be a guest at the first ‘Forbes Innovation Forum’ in Bulgaria, and I left so inspired from the stories I heard. These came from companies where innovation is ingrained in their DNA, where they have what Forbes describes as an ‘innovation kitchen’. The hypothesis of the organisers of this amazing event was that innovation does not corelate with the size of a company. Small companies and start-ups can be really innovative just as much as large corporations. To innovate means to experiment, to work well in team dynamics, and the captivating stories proved that. Some of the hot desk questions tackled by leaders and entrepreneurs were: ‘What turns your consumers into loyal clients?’ ‘How can your company generate bolder ideas and be more flexible in implementing them?’

There were features in common between these inspirational leaders who shared the stage of the ‘innovation kitchen’?  They all had a big vision for the future, were brave enough to follow it, were open minded, confident in themselves and their teams, and with an adventurous spirit to experiment. 

Being curious to hear firsthand how start-ups, and mature organizations, go about creating innovative solutions for their clients, I was so pleased to hear in their stories that environment matters. In particular, an environment where people can tap into their creativity.

Notice the two key words here – innovation and creativity. Which comes first? Let’s delve into that. Creativity is one topic I have always been interested in. I believe we are all creative beings, with the potential to draw this from within and express it meaningfully to our world. What are the right conditions under which we thrive on creativity? In my latest episode ‘Is Creativity the Pathway to Thriving?’ from the Thrive on Purpose podcast series, Dr. Michael Bloomfield defined creative idea as having three attributes: new, valuable and counterintuitive.

As a world-renowned expert on creativity and discoverer of the only theory on creativity (Cusp Theory), he contends this is a language we can all learn. However, he points out that if we want to be more creative, we need to be committed to learning it. And it takes time. Michael went on to espouse that creativity comes before innovation. In our individual world if we can take responsibility for creating an environment to be more creative and where people can express this potential freely, it will lead to innovation in our workplace. 

So, in fact, culture is the ‘innovation kitchen’ in any organization. Why? Because it is the environment which either hinders, or liberates, the human creative spirit and fosters innovation. Therefore, when leaders wish to embrace the innovation pathway and create exceptional value for their customers, they need to nurture a creativity environment. Which begs the question. What are the ingredients which most successful innovative companies use to ‘cook’ in this ‘innovation kitchen’? These companies, the creators of thriving cultures, and their leaders, are the ‘Master Chefs’.

The recurrent theme from the numerous success stories was that the main ingredients are directly related to the attitude of the people in your organization. Successfully innovative cultures have nurtured an environment where people are free to experiment, where there are open communication channels, there is no fear of mistake, there is regular feedback. All voices are listened to (employees and customers). There is trust, a ‘Why not?’ attitude. Immersed in a stimulating physical environment, people from all layers are allowed to share ideas and bring these ideas to the fore. These innovative organizations allow themselves to dream and to go for their dreams unobstructed from their own limitations. That’s liberation.

So, is there any other ingredient in the ‘innovation kitchen’? I believe there is. Taking the lead from Dr. Bloomfield, and from my own experience in nurturing my creativity, I know how important it is to be committed to allowing the space for new ideas to emerge, day in day out. 

What really stood out in the forum was the ‘silent hours’ that mature companies have invested in their innovation kitchen. The bravery of leaders to recognize the importance of slowing down. So knowing it is essential to allow that space for creativity to flourish is the first thing. But embedding practices as a matter of daily routine to nurture their people as creative beings is another level of leadership maturity.
We at Thriving LeadershipTM support leaders, teams and organisations to thrive. We understand the dynamic when people are allowed to express themselves creatively, they feel valued and contribute in a meaningful way, which undoubtedly supports the innovative power of any organisation.