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July 15, 2021
3 min read

The Ingredients of Great Innovation Culture:

George Krasadakis is the author of 'The Innovation Mode' and a hands-on Technology & Innovation Leader and Corporate Advisor on Innovation & Technology. He has more than two decades of experience in tech startups, big-technology companies, and consulting firms -including Microsoft and Accenture’s Global Center for Innovation. George has extensive experience in innovation leadership - he has architected various innovation frameworks, set up innovation labs, designed and built ideation systems, established digital prototyping teams, and architected large-scale innovation gamification programs. His expertise spans digital product development, software engineering, data science, and innovation leadership. He has filed more than 20 patents on Artificial Intelligence, Analytics, and IoT and has led more than 80 data-driven software projects from concept to launch, for more than 10 multinational corporations in three countries. George is the founder of 4 technology startups.

How would you define a ‘great’ innovation culture?

A great culture of innovation can be thought of as a special, collective mindset that values and promotes curiosity (exploration of new ideas) and change (adoption of new ideas) as key success factors for the organisation - holistically. It is a system of values and principles that breaks the organisational silos and hierarchical barriers by inspiring and empowering people and teams to collaborate effectively toward a big organisational purpose. 

As I explain in the Innovation Mode, the ‘system of values’ of the innovation culture is based upon six principles, namely Trust, Safety, Openness, Curiosity, Purposefulness, and Healthy Competition. When these principles are there - as part of the ‘operating system’ of the organisation - people tend to be more open, creative, and efficient; they engage more with the innovation process, they are proactive, they share their ideas, and contribute to others’ ideas in constructive and creative ways. At the same time, the leadership is also more open, accessible, and collaborative – they engage with innovation activities, they provide direct and constructive feedback and they accept failure as part of the innovation process. You will know that a great innovation culture is there when there is a “one team” mentality – the feeling of a single ‘force’ working toward a bold organisational purpose. When this level of innovation culture is achieved, the entire organisation engages with innovation in various ways – formal or informal – and there is a growing, influential, self-organising innovation community.

Do you feel that lockdown has encouraged innovation?

While I don’t have any statistics on that, I get signals from the market that a lot of organisations have put innovation efforts in lower priority during the lockdown. Although this makes some sense - since companies put all their effort into keeping core processes up and running – I do believe that such a prolonged crisis should be seen as an ‘opportunity’ for companies to rethink their offerings and how they operate. Companies that did focus on innovation activities will exit this pandemic far stronger than those that operated in a ‘survival mode’. 

On the other hand, the lockdown accelerated the adoption of the latest digital technologies and enforced companies to engage with more ‘innovative’ ways of working. Also, I believe that this crisis has inspired a wave of new entrepreneurs – to come up with innovative solutions in the context of the emerging hybrid and flexible work model. 

Is it important for companies to showcase their innovation? If so, how?

Yes, this is essential – for many reasons, including attraction of talent and brand empowerment.   If we consider how overused (and misused) the term ‘innovation’ is, companies must take every opportunity to showcase real innovation, concrete examples of how ‘novelty’ has driven impact at scale. And this needs to happen both internally and externally.

Internally it can happen through systematic diffusion of high-quality content that presents innovation activities, outputs, and outcomes. This needs a content team and also the right mechanisms and technologies. The best way to do this is through what I call the ‘Innovation Portal’ – a digital home for all innovation-related resources within the organisation. This is the place where people simply discover active innovation threads, functional prototypes, experimentation results, performance insights for launched products, events, etc. 

Similarly, an organisation can use a public-facing ‘digital innovation space’ presenting selected innovation cases, achievements, experimental products, and stories about the impact of their innovation activities. This could evolve as a platform for engaging with the general audience (e.g. capturing feedback about the showcased projects) and also as a component of a broader ‘Open Innovation’ program (e.g. asking people for ideas on solving particular problems).

Companies can also leverage ‘innovation centers’ or ‘hubs’ where clients and employees can explore and experience interactive demos and live presentations about companies’ innovation achievements.

What triggered you to write the ‘innovation mode’? What were the biggest learnings from writing it? 

For more than 20 years I have been contributing to technology innovation from various angles (as an innovator, inventor, innovation leader, innovation advisor, product architect), in different setups (startups, big-tech companies, consulting firms), and various countries (Greece, Ireland, United Kingdom). This experience allowed me to form a spherical, multidimensional view of corporate innovation and also to realise that in the corporate world there is a big gap in understanding innovation. Very often, companies fail to see the big picture – how innovation can drive business performance. Leadership teams often do not realise that innovation must be at the core of the organisation and not a ‘separate project’ or an ad-hoc program. In many cases, leaders are genuinely interested in innovation but they don’t know how to start and where to go next. This gap was the trigger for writing the Innovation Mode – a practical guide that helps leaders transform their companies into agile, innovative organisations. In terms of learnings from writing the book – well, I discovered how creative and rewarding the process is!   

Digital Transformation:

How would you define digital transformation in your own words?

I would define digital transformation as the process of redesigning an organisation by adopting and leveraging the latest digital technologies. This definition has two major components. 

The first one – and rather obvious – is the systematic adoption of digital technologies that improve or streamline core functions of the business or replace legacy systems, practices, and previously manually operated processes – e.g. adopting cloud services to optimise content management.

The second component – the less obvious, that also justifies the term ‘transformation’ – is about leveraging these technologies to create new opportunities. As the organisation adopts modern digital technologies, digitises existing assets, and becomes more data-driven, it gains power and flexibility in shaping, testing, exploring new opportunities – being products, services, business models, or other forms of innovation. And this layer, this new capability powered by digital technology - is the source, the enabler of the true transformation of the organisation. 

What are the key mistakes innovators make when attempting digital transformation?

Being part of a Digital Transformation program requires a holistic view of the organisation – its vision, mission, current structure, operating model – along with and a deep understanding of the market and the state of the art of digital technologies. Typical mistakes in leading such programs often relate to a lack of this holistic view – for example, very often teams tend to over-index the technology itself – versus the broader business needs and the role of people. In other cases, transformation programs start without a clear vision and alignment with the goals of the organisation. Very frequently, there is no solid measurement framework – as the basis of measuring the program itself but also the impact of its deliverables. 

Using the definition above – it is not enough to deliver the ‘adoption’ component only (to replace existing capabilities with their digital equivalents) – this would be rather called ‘digitisation’. Transformation means that the leading team must deeply understand the potential of digital technologies and use this understanding to redefine core aspects of the organisation. Even better, to define the layer that makes this ‘opportunity discovery’ an ongoing process – an innovation thread that keeps exploring new business opportunities powered by digital tools. 

What advice would you give to an organisation that is about to begin digitally transforming?

The first thing I would recommend would be to ensure strong sponsorship, ongoing support and participation from the leadership of the organisation - senior leaders must be fully supportive and fully aware of the potential, the desired goals, the nature of the journey, and the unavoidable disruption of established processes. Another piece of advice would be to focus on people – include educational components in the program and provide transparency on its purpose and objectives. Finally, the program itself should be architected and led by a ‘dream team’ – a core team of experts both from the market and from within. An organisation that plans to begin the digital transformation journey must pay special attention to forming this ‘dream team’ and empowering it to make bold moves and drive change at a fast pace – able to avoid the political and bureaucratic obstacles.

How do you spark creativity both individually and in teams?

For me, there is nothing more inspiring than an impactful and hard problem. A well-articulated worth-solving problem inspires ideas, explorations, creative discussions and leads naturally to framing, prototyping, validation, and potentially to real-world solutions attempting to address it. And I have seen that happening to teams as well: bring a cross-disciplinary team in a room, provide them with a challenging problem-worth-solving and give them insights regarding the market and what the competition is doing in addressing the problem – and then amazing things can happen. Doing that at the organisational level – establishing a flow of ‘problems worth solving’ along with streams of ‘market intelligence’ can inspire people and transform the way the organisation innovates. 

George's Book recommendations 

-       Platform Revolution: How Networked Markets are Transforming the Economy and How to Make Them Work for You Geoffrey G. Parker, Marshall W. Van Alstyne, Sangeet Paul Choudary

-       Measure What Matters: OKRs: The Simple Idea that Drives 10x Growth Paperback – John Doerr

For more on George check out the following:

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