Innovation is critical for organizations to grow and stay competitive. Organizations associated with the arts and culture industry are no exception. Bleeding-edge innovation helps you develop inventive new products and services, enter exciting new markets, and dramatically improve your bottom line. Disruptive innovation can also make you one of the truly impactful organizations in your industry.
Here are 7 crucial steps that creative leaders like you can implement with your team to foster innovation that may also help you grow faster and leave a powerful legacy:
1 - A clear, inspiring, shared vision
Every business model starts with clarity of vision. You need to know exactly what you plan to accomplish and how it will be perceived by your target market.
Then you need to communicate that vision clearly to your team members and stakeholders, painting a picture of a future that is energizing and exciting, all because your vision comes to pass.
When everyone on your team is motivated by an inspiring vision, they can quickly overcome myriad challenges without getting derailed. In addition, once the team is in alignment with the vision, they become your best ambassadors.
You'll find that when you actively use all your leadership skills and have all your team members on board with your company's goals, purpose and desired impact, they get excited about making that vision a reality.
2 - Analysis of constraints on innovation
To be successful you must help your team continually generate new ideas and turn them into innovative, high-quality products and services. This requires creativity and a willingness to challenge the status quo. However, creativity is often stifled by external constraints such as rules and regulations, deadlines, and scarce resources.
For example, your organization may want to develop a new product, but may be limited by government regulations or the need to meet customer demands within a certain timeframe. Or your business may lack the financial resources or adequate staffing needed to bring an idea to fruition.
One study (1) examined 31 projects out of 162 submitted for an invention award. Within these projects the researchers found additional constraints such as:
- the absence of failure-analysis systems (100%)
- lack of patenting initiatives (97%)
- lack of recognition for innovations in non-core areas (94%)
- inadequacy of rewards and recognition (65%)
- and many more.
It is important for organizational leadership to find ways to encourage innovation and creativity in order to overcome such constraints. One way to do this is to give employees time to brainstorm and explore new ideas. Another way is to provide financial incentives for employees who come up with original solutions. By finding ways to encourage creativity, businesses can stay ahead of the competition and maintain a competitive advantage.
Not all constraints are "bad" though. A recent study described in the Harvard Business Review (2) suggests that some constraints help businesses innovate better. Unless teams are required to adhere to a few specific constraints, workers can become complacent, simply following their most basic intuitive ideas instead of working for something "outside the box."
The researchers suggest three main forms of constraints:
- limiting inputs (e.g., time; finances; available materials)
- enforcing processes (e.g., lean start-up model; agile teams)
- specifying output requirements (product or service specs)
Remember that creativity comes from the ability to make novel connections where none existed before. A few constraints keep the field narrow enough to make those connections easily. Too many constraints make the way ahead too narrow. Companies thrive on inventive ideas when there is a balance between too many and too few.
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3 - An adaptable business strategy
Strategy provides a roadmap for innovation, but you don't want to be locked into something that can't flex with market and global changes. One of the difficulties companies face when it comes to developing a culture of innovation and the possibility of disrupting the market is being able to foresee such changes.
Fortunately, when you have a vision of what you want to achieve, and a strategy for how to get there, you can also anticipate potential changes that create industry pitfalls. This helps you to be prepared with a variety of possible solutions. Planning ahead for such issues before they come up will help you avoid costly setbacks down the line.
For instance, would you have been prepared for the recent supply chain problems? In April 2022, 36% of small business owners reported that supply chain disruptions had a significant impact on their business.
What about finding workers to fill open positions? In that same month, 47% of small businesses reported they couldn't fill all their open positions. Of those hiring or trying to hire, 93% reported few or no qualified applicants for those positions. Statistics from NFIB (3).
In addition to anticipating challenging obstacles, organizations also need to be able to anticipate sudden potentially lucrative opportunities. You can develop strategies for taking advantage of opportunities that put you ahead of any of your competitors.
In fact, if you play your cards right, planning to take advantage of unexpected opportunities can leave your company swimming in a "blue ocean" without any direct competitors.
4 - The right culture
You need to have a culture of openness, collaboration, and trust. Adopt a leadership style where your team is able to exchange a free flow of ideas and brainstorm without self-censoring; you never know which "crazy idea" is going to become the next big thing.
Do your part to provide creative leadership by developing the right culture. You can tell when people are excited to work together, versus when they end up working in silos. You can do your part by: hiring only the best people; providing a diverse group of team members with different skills; rewarding individual success and effort; and holding social events and friendly competitions that produce personal bonding and camaraderie. All of these types of activities help inspire a culture of teamwork that is essential for effective innovation.
You also need to have a culture that is "intrapreneurial". Intrapreneurs are employees who use entrepreneurial skills within a company, looking for and experimenting with initiatives that could benefit the company financially.
Promoting an intrapreneurial culture lets employees know it's okay to take some reasonable risks when experimenting with something new. For example, are you familiar with all the changes that seem to occur every month with your Google account? They all come from Google's "20% rule" in which employees are encouraged to spend 20% of their time working on whatever they think will benefit Google (that's one day a week). That's how AdSense and Google News were developed.
Many people are afraid to take risks because they don't want to fail. But failure is a part of innovation; it's how people learn! You have to be willing to try new things and accept that not all of them will work out. By taking calculated risks, you increase the chances that you'll find a new process or product that is successful. You may even create a disruption in your industry that leads everyone directly to your organization.
If you're too risk-averse, you'll never achieve anything new and exciting. You have to strike a balance between being open to new ideas and being willing to accept that some of those ideas won't work out. Your team needs the freedom to experiment and fail, without fear of retribution.
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5 - An emphasis on being customer-centric
One of the most important aspects of fostering inventive ideas is understanding your customers and what they want. It's not enough to create a product or service that you think is great; it has to be something that your target market wants and is willing to pay for.
You need to be constantly asking yourself how you can make your products or services better, and how you can make them more appealing to your target market. When you're customer-centric, you're always looking for ways to improve the customer experience. This means being open to feedback and constantly making changes based on what your customers say they want.
What do customers want? They want products and services that are easy to use, that save them time and money, and that make their lives easier. They also want to be able to trust the companies they do business with. In order to be customer-centric, you need to be able to put yourself in your customers' shoes and see things from their perspective.
6 - Processes to manage change
Change is a constant in business, and you need to have processes in place to deal with it. Some of the changes you can expect include: technology; global markets; regulations; workforce availability; etc. If you don't manage change effectively, it can lead to chaos and confusion within your organization.
You and your team can choose one of several different approaches to change:
- Resist it. This is when you try to keep things the same, even when the world around you is changing. This might work in the short term, but it's not a sustainable strategy in the long run.
- Embrace it and make it part of your company culture. This could be something as simple as a weekly meeting where you discuss changes that need to be made, or it could be a more formal process.
- Accept it and adapt to it. This means you understand that change is inevitable and that you need to be flexible in order to survive. This doesn't mean that you have to make internal changes just for the sake of it; you still want to be strategic about the changes you make. But it does mean that you need to be open to external - or internal - change and be willing to adapt as necessary.
No matter which approach you take, you need to have some kind of process in place to deal with change. According to a Harvard Business School article (4), here are some steps you and your team can discuss:
- Prepare the organization for change. Cultural, emotional, and logistical preparation are all necessary.
- Craft a vision and plan for change. Included in the vision: strategic goals; KPIs; identification of the project stakeholders and team; clarification of the project scope.
- Implement change. Make sure you empower your employees so they can take appropriate measures to achieve the goals of the change initiative.
- Embed changes within the company culture and practices. This prevents people from reverting to the status quo.
- Review progress and analyze results. As with any business project, hold an after-action meeting to talk about what went well and what could be improved.
This is a straightforward system that will help your organization prepare for and implement changes that make it possible to innovate and grow.
7 - Having the right team on board
To make your vision a reality you need to have a team with diverse skills, backgrounds, and perspectives. Innovation becomes much easier when the company both values and encourages different viewpoints and approaches. Diversity is important because it leads to more creativity and better problem-solving.
It's imperative that you hire talented individuals who are not only experts in their field, with the necessary skills and experience, but who also have the ability to think creatively outside the box.
As stated above, company culture affects the way employees think, feel, and act. It's what sets the tone for how they interact with customers and make decisions. That's why it's crucial to have employees who are all working well together, and toward the same inspiring vision.
But having the right people on board isn't enough; those people also need to have appropriate resources and the freedom to be creative. While it's important to have the right team in place, it's just as important to create the right conditions for them to thrive.
Arts and culture organizations that embrace innovation can thrive in the ever-changing landscape of the 21st century. By having a clear vision, analyzing your constraints, and building processes to manage change, your organization can create an environment where growth is likely and huge impact is possible.
The right team is essential for this type of organization; individuals who are creative, adaptive, and customer-centric will help foster a culture of innovation. Culture and strategy must be adaptable to support the evolution of the organization; if they are not, then they will stagnate.
Ultimately, it is up to arts and culture leaders like you to make sure that all aspects of your organization are primed for innovation so you may continue to grow and serve your community.