Fostering a Culture of Innovation

The frustrating truth is despite their best efforts most entrepreneurs will fail within 5 years. Of those that manage to survive, the next challenge become finding a way to make lightning strike twice. Traditional thinking is that the second iteration of a business should focus on repeating the founder’s example and vision, with the main emphasis being to do it again. However, in today’s complex world where competitors could exist around the corner or around the world, any business that is not constantly innovating is at risk of perishing. At some point every entrepreneur runs out of ideas or just falls into a rut. When this happens, the entrepreneur needs a divergent voice to help reinvent the business.  

As discussed in a prior post, a Divergent Voice can help raise issues and perspectives that others in the cannot. The Divergent Voice is not necessarily a creative person but a person that can help foster a culture of innovation in four ways: 

1. Ask Better Questions 

Most people ask why an organization should try something new. In other words, the assumption is that we will only change if there is a reason to change. However, a Divergent Voice will often focus on “why not change”? Their lack of commitment to tradition can challenge the group to question why they are not changing. In some organization, however, there may be an inclination to change quickly, in this case the Divergent Voice may speak against the change. This will be especially true if the change is not fully considered. The key for every entrepreneur is surround himself or herself with people who are willing to ask the unpopular question. 

2. Sees the World Differently 

Scenario planning is on the best tools for testing an idea. However, groupthink can cause us to think that the best-case or worst-case scenario is the most likely scenario. The ability of the group to fixate on an optimistic (or pessimistic) outcome is destructive to the innovative process because once a group becomes anchored on a particular outcome it will see little value in digging deeper. However, the divergent voice can keep asking questions and extend the conversation long enough for the group to expand its possible strategies.  

3. Build a spirit of resilience 

Most divergent voices have experienced failure – failure to move others, failure to be heard, and failure to be accepted by the group. These failures can often create a sense of resilience – the spirit of being knocked down 9 times but getting up 10 times. This attitude can be contagious and help encourage others that as they try new ideas and some inevitably fail it is not necessarily bad news. One of the more well-known Divergent Voice was Thomas Edison, who dedicated years to refining the light bulb. As the story goes, it took him 10,000 attempts to perfect. However rather than accepting failure he is quoted as: ‘I have not failed. I have just found 9,999 ways that do not work’. 

4. Promote Healthy Dissatisfaction

Perhaps nothing is a greater threat to innovation then the feeling one has achieved it. Innovation is a constant journey and not a destination. Each year, the most innovative companies will announce a new edition of their products, while simultaneously already working on the next new product. For example, most years will release the latest iPhone but at the same time the prototypes of the next generation are already being tested. The Divergent Voice is likely to be the one to see the latest product and ask what is next. If too long passes after a period of innovation, then inertia will set in, and future innovation will become more difficult. Without question great innovations need to be celebrated and it can be quite destructive to never pause and rest. In some organization, the Divergent Voice may be the one to encourage the pause.

If you are a successful entrepreneur, you have proven that are innovative and persistent. As you begin to grow your business, the question becomes not where the next great idea will come from but how will you create a culture where there is a constant stream of great ideas. This will need someone who asks tough questions, see the world differently, promotes resiliency, and encourages a healthy dissatisfaction. In short, you need to find a Divergent Voice for your team! 

Prof. Jason MacGregor

Lecturer at AVODA

Jason is an Associate Professor and Roderick Holmes Chair of Accountancy at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, USA. He is originally from Canada. He has undergraduate degree from the University of Windsor and a Ph.D. from the University of Florida. Jason is also Treasurer at the ICIE Fund, AVODA’s main fundraising partner.

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