A View from Blue Grotto

Friday, March 06, 2009

Ecosystem of corporate culture

A culture of innovation. That was the topic presented in a 14-minute video interview of Soumitra Dutta, Professor of Information Systems at INSEAD Business School.

Dutta’s newest book Innovating at the Top was written based on interviews with CEOs at companies he considers “highly innovative” – including Bosch, Genentech, Nokia, 3M, and Toyota.

Though Dutta sought out diversity in industry and across continents, not surprisingly, these successful CEOs consider innovation to be a part of their core responsibilities – as CEO. These executives see themselves as champions of innovation within their organizations, rather than delegating innovation as a task of the “men in white frocks” as Dutta described R&D departments.

Dutta tries to dispel the characterization of innovation as simply the playground of the quirky folks who wear mismatched socks. He argues innovation can be embedded in an organization’s culture, a process to encourage/enable innovation can also be created.

I found the most interesting few minutes of the video to be Dutta’s commentary that innovation is no longer an internal function of a company – deployed to R&D departments. Rather, innovation extends outside the company – to include partners, suppliers, and customers – in a new environment of “collaborate and compete…Opening the ecosystem of innovation” as Dutta describes it.

I got to thinking…if you are going to share knowledge about your innovation - outside your organization - a culture compatibility becomes paramount. Beyond the intellectual property concerns, partnering with other companies, potentially competitors even, requires a certain understanding. A similar set of values. Nearly every company lists innovation in their “values” (see my previous blog). But valuing risk-taking, and a shared responsibility in taking the risk, regardless of success or failure, runs much deeper than the statement “We at Blue Grotto value innovation.”

Here’s where a company’s culture becomes an asset, demonstrating to a potential innovation partner, similar to a merger or acquisition candidate, what truly is important in your organization and how you stand behind it. As important as a strong culture itself, is a company’s ability to communicate those values. You can’t simply post it on your website.

Blue Grotto clients work hard to not only define and capture their organization’s culture and values, but to articulate that culture. Our single most effective platform for communicating a company’s culture is the narrative process – storytelling. Concrete examples of your values in action are more richly illustrated through the narrative process, helping to reinforce your integrity and commitment to your culture.

Note how Professor Dutta chose to document the practices of the highly innovative CEOs – through interviews.

Think of how you communicate your organization’s culture. Email me with examples of how you are leveraging the anecdotes and history that illustrate your values and best practices. And, what would you consider adequate evidence of a potential partner's commitment to those same values?

And, you can view how 3M chooses to communicate its own culture of innovation, with a 250-page publication - A Century of Innovation - a project the Blue Grotto team is incredibly proud of: http://solutions.3m.com/wps/portal/3M/en_US/our/company/information/history/century-innovation/

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.