A new ASTD-i4cp study explores learnings role in creating a
culture that supports innovation.
The ability to actively promote, develop, and sustain a culture of
innovation has become a matter of paramount importance for many
organizations. While innovation takes different shapes and plays
various roles within organizations, the learning function is
uniquely positioned to ensure that a culture of innovation is not
only created but that it flourishes. Innovation does not occur in a
vacuum; the right approaches and strategies utilized by an engaged
learning function can be critical to innovation and ultimately, an
ASTD and i4cp collaborated recently to investigate the learning
functions role in business innovation. The resulting report,
Learning to Innovate: Exploring Learnings Critical Role in
Fostering Innovation, found that the learning function can, should,
and does play a critical role in developing and sustaining the
innovative culture that is the hallmark of successful
organizations. The report, conducted in May 2011, is based on 1,194
responses from learning and business professionals.
This study examines the importance of innovation and the ways
learning influences it. Specific focus differentiates the practices
of high-performing organizations, based on performance in revenue
growth, market share, profitability, and customer satisfaction,
from their lower-performing counterparts. Some of the issues and
topics addressed include
- the role of innovation in high-performance organizations
- sources of innovation
- recognition of innovation as a competency
- learning strategies that foster innovation
- roadblocks that inhibit innovation.
Bolstering the position that innovation leads to overall business
success, the study found that high-performing organizations are
more than twice as likely as their lower performing counterparts to
claim an innovative culture. At high-performance organizations, 41
percent of respondents consider their company to have a culture of
innovation to a high or very high extent. Only 20 percent of low
performers said the same.
Not surprisingly, the study found that innovation is most often
driven from the top down, whether the CEO is considered the most
innovative person in the organization or not. Clearly, CEOs are
most often pushing the hardest for innovation, and barring that, it
is most likely that another executive or team of executives are
making the push. Very few organizations (16 percent) can credit
non-executive employees as the most vocal proponents of innovation.
The study found that the most common barriers to innovation are a
lack of a formal innovation strategy and a lack of systems in place
to promote innovation. It appears that many companies are simply
crossing their fingers and hoping that innovation will just happen.
As with most aspects of innovation, high performers deal with these
challenges to a far better degree than low-performing
organizations. First, low performers are twice as likely to be
challenged by the fact that they have no formal innovation strategy
and no systems in place to promote innovation. Second, and perhaps
more importantly, low performers have a much greater fear of
failure and a higher aversion to risk, compared with high
One of the strongest characteristics of an innovative company is
the willingness to take risks and not simply accept failure, but in
fact celebrate it. If employees are too afraid to be punished for
an idea that does not work out, many potential
innovationsbreakthrough or incrementalwill never see the light of
day. Another challenge faced by many companies is a lack of support
from leadership and management. But as we noted earlier, truly
innovative, successful companies do not necessarily have that
challenge. Low performers are more than twice as likely to complain
of this problem as high performers.
A company cannot merely hope that innovation happens organically.
Neither can it hire innovative people and sit back and watch them
innovate. Innovation needs to be developed and nurtured, and the
learning function is uniquely positioned to help build and sustain
an innovative culture.
The full report includes interviews with successful learning
leaders who discuss the strategies they employ to develop and
promote innovation. Strategies employed by high-performing
organization range from delivering learning content via preloaded
iPads, to developing tools to deliver and measure readiness for
innovation, to creating an Innovation Center of Excellence.
The full report is available at the ASTD store (store.astd.org).