A Practical Approach To Measuring, Understanding and Building Innovation Cultures

By Henry Doss, Chief Strategy Officer of T2 Venture Creation, from Forbes

Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.  – Mark Twain

The world has changed.  The old ways of doing things are passing.  Industrialization is being replaced by innovation.  Consumption and growth models are being replaced by sustainability and capacity improvements.  Cultures of hierarchy struggle for relevance.  What was linear is now random and what was once a “production line” is becoming a “process of emergence.”  And sitting right in the center of this world transformation is the challenge of something we call culture. This is the Holy Grail of the 21st century.

That’s why my colleague Alistair Brett and I have written a little book that we believe can set organizations on a clear path to understanding, measuring, and engineering cultures of innovation. Not talking about culture, but actually engaging in the practice of building cultures.

Organizational culture has historically been a lot like Mark Twain’s wry quip about weather:   Everyone talks about it, and talks about it, and talks about it.  Seldom does anyone actually do anything about it.  And because real action is so difficult to implement, culture is often viewed as the backwater of organizational strategy.   Its importance, its foundational role in what actually gets done is always acknowledged.  But introduce culture as a conversation about doing, and eyes glaze over, confusion reigns and organizational leaders retreat to platitudes, or the status quo.

There are good reasons for this reaction.  Culture has always been devilishly hard to understand and difficult to talk about in practical ways.   It is elusive in both what it is and how we might actually change it for the better.  Like the weather, we are interested in it; it’s always there in some form; and we wish we could influence it.  We want to influence culture so desperately that we go directly into action; and in service to building new and better cultures, we create organizational models  and develop strong points of view about culture.  This almost always drives mixed results.

We might argue, for example, that culture is a product of aligned leadership, and that’s true, but incomplete.  We might decide that culture is a function of clear performance expectations and consistent leadership guidance, and that’s a little bit true, but woefully incomplete.   We might believe that culture is a thing that we simply articulate as a goal or vision and then we lead an organization to be that vision or goal; that, too, contains a little bit of truth, but is dangerously incomplete.  All of these points of view, and the many others that we profess about culture, suffer from the same deficiency:  They have no framework or system of common language, common measures and common narrative that can serve to align an entire organization.   This absence of shared language and measures is what turns most cultural projects into Towers of Babel.

This core problem of building cultures — the absence of measures and language — is what The Rainforest Scorecard:  A Practical Framework for Growing Innovation Potential  addresses.  It is a project to systematize, empiricize, and measure innovation potential in organizational cultures, and then guide users through a process that supports the actual, real engineering of innovation into cultures.  It seeks to take a conversation that is generally vague, intuitive and almost wistful and render that conversation — that organizational dialogue about culture — pragmatic.

But there is an important, critical nuance to be made about the approach we suggest for building innovation cultures.  Any effort to change, improve, adjust or engineer a culture must be at its heart an effort to bring life and purpose and joy and fulfillment to individuals.  If we render “innovation” and “culture” as simply one more project to wring one more level of efficiency out of an organization, that project will fail.  What our book and approach recognizes — in fact, the very foundation on which it is built — is the notion that a culture of innovation is a marriage, a synthesis of two worlds:  the world of production and the world of creation; the world of the planned and the world of the unplanned; the world of the empirical and the world of the subjective.  It is the synthesis of these two opposite worlds into a functioning whole that is the key to meaningful, purposeful and productive organizations.  Without this deep assumption operating in the thinking and work of building cultures, there will be no innovation, little purpose and no chance of improvement in the world.

The work we would like to start with this little book is just a beginning.  There is still much to be done, by many others.  That’s why we are releasing this book under a Creative Commons license, and inviting collaboration and conversation about innovation and culture by any and all.  We ask only that you credit the original book and license your work under the same terms.

Enjoy the ride!

Henry Doss believes leadership willchange the world.  He is an ecosystem architect, a volunteer in higher education, a student and a musician.

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