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Escaping Cultures of Fear – A Key Pillar of Innovation?

By Simon Hill, Big4.com, Guest Blogger

As an innovation company, our focus is on helping our customers to build innovation into the hearts of their business. An ambitious goal and one not easy to strive for, let alone achieve. It is a journey, but having the vision and confidence as a business to not just assert this value but actually work towards it is a giant leap. Not all businesses are ready for this, but as the world around us changes the need to innovate and adapt to the pace of change is becoming increasingly important.

In a recent presentation at the Digital London summit I spoke about the power of the crowd and explored this from the perspective of why many organisations have become accidentally social externally, but frequently prevent their internal organisation from being social at all. I find this fascinating and have been speaking with people to understand this trend properly. The interesting finding from all of these conversations is what I am broadly coining under the umbrella of ‘culture of fear’. HBR used this term in one of their publications, What makes a leader? (HBR,
2004). They looked at this through a different lens, but I think the conclusion when evaluating the question of What drives an innovative culture? is exactly the same, but perhaps even more pronounced.

Our software helps businesses by making the process of idea management within an organisation more social, more engaging and more collaborative. If you like it is a suggestion box, web 2.0 style! However, for the software to be effective the right culture must first of all be encouraged. In a culture of fear as defined in HBR and
reinforced by our findings, “people suppress their feelings” and do not feel confident to share or vocalise their ideas or thoughts. Instead the phenomenon of ‘groupthink’ ensues and innovation becomes stymied and falters. It may not feel like it, many of the people we speak to do not recognise this problem until they explore their organisational culture a little more.

Some good questions to ask are – where do our ideas and innovation come from? who are the most innovative people within our company? are we sharing ideas cross-functionally effectively? (the best ideas often come from people whose day job is far removed from the idea they shared, they just see the business through a different lens), how many ideas do we have each month/year and how many do we actually implement/shelf/miss?

Having answers to these questions (or not) can help you to better understand and place the current organisational culture. The next questions are then more around the preparedness to move towards a more open, collaborative and flat (in the sense of non-hierarchical innovation brainstorming) methods of engaging the collective
wisdom within your business. It works, we see it first hand every day and those embracing these principles have seen significant improvements to their overall business performance.

Simon Hill is CEO and co-founder of Wazoku, an Associate Director with the Venture Capital Firm FindInvestGrow and an active member of the London technology and entrepreneurial community. Simon is an alumni of PWC, Deloitte and Cap Gemini.

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