Culture, Uber Alles
Yes, culture matters. According to a recently published study in MIT's business school publication, corporate culture is the most important factor for innovation success. The authors of the study defined a culture of innovation as one that has a future market orientation, a willingness to cannibalize and a tolerance for risk.
Well, as my kids say - "Duh".
Everybody wants to innovate - after all, how many CEOs will stand up and say "We want to be the followers in our market. We want to be second best." Everyone wants to innovate, but too often things, like culture and bureaucracy get in the way. People know instinctively that innovation is important, but making the quarter is really urgent, and we'll get to that innovation stuff eventually. Corporate culture is really good at weeding out things that aren't emphasized, measured or rewarded. If you can't point at an exact measurement or benefit from innovation, then it won't happen in your organization.
Culture blocks innovation in several ways. First, most corporate culture doesn't like risk or change, and innovation requires both of those. Second, most corporate cultures like well defined opportunities with little deviation or change from a stated goal. Again, innovation violates that. Third, corporate culture is generally about preservation. The authors noted that a focus on cannibalization is important, and requires a future perspective. So, innovation goes against the grain for most corporate cultures.
Except where it doesn't, as Dr. Seuss would say. I found it interesting that Steven Jobs, head of the innovation organization known as Apple said that if his products were going to be cannibalized, he was going to be the cannibal. Jobs has a future orientation - which means he's concerned with what comes next, and is tolerant of risk because he has failed, as often as he has succeeded. That's another problem with corporate culture in most firms. Most firms can't tolerate failure and punish it rather quickly. Firms that want to be innovative will fail, and those that punish failure will tamp down any innovation.
Did we really need research to know that culture is the biggest barrier or the biggest contributor to innovation success? Possibly. Sometimes the obvious needs to be stated in order for us to accept it. Now, the question is, how do we change our culture to make it more accepting of innovation. That's the subject of our latest white paper - see it here.