Sustaining a Culture of Innovation


Innovation, long the corporate buzzword for how an organization can be more productive, shape their future and remain ahead of their competition’s curve. Innovation is at the heart of what helps companies thrive. But after all the brainstorming sessions, the think tank experts and enough Post-it® notes to keep 3M in business, many companies find themselves frustrated by the lack of results.


The truth is all the innovation tools and techniques in the world will never yield results if innovation is not inherently part of a company’s day-to-day business practices. In our industry, innovation is critical to success. Our design practices are anchored in putting the learner’s needs front and center, which means our teams are continuously tasked with creating learning experiences to fit those needs. When combined with the pace at which technology changes, the opportunities for how to deliver those learning experiences is ever-expanding and evolving.


“All the innovation tools and techniques in the world will never yield results if innovation is not inherently part of a company’s day-to-day business practices.”


So what’s the secret to nurturing and sustaining innovation in our workplace? In nearly three decades of delivering learning experiences to higher education clients, what I’ve learned is this: a culture of innovation is something you feed daily with intention, creativity, courage and incentive.


Intention: Personally or professionally, intention is what drives a person’s actions. The results of a company are built on the collective intentions - and actions - of its people. It’s impossible to create a culture of innovation if leadership (at any level) is preaching innovation but practicing traditional management. Aligning your organization’s “innovation mindset” with your intention is key to creating a culture where innovation can thrive.


Creativity: Every member of our diverse team is vetted for both creativity and flexibility. A creative mind approaches projects with a solutions focus, and the confidence to engage with problems to resolve them, seeing problems as opportunities versus barriers. Yes, we want to know about their previous successes, but also about any failures, what was learned, how these were overcome and what they would do differently in hindsight.


Additionally, creativity requires nurturing, and room to move and breathe. Which is why we value lifelong learning and how it both fosters and requires creativity. It’s important to us that our team members have rich, learning lives outside of O’Donnell Learn.


Courage: Or said another way, “permission” to be brave. Developing a culture of innovation might be one of the bravest journeys an organization can take. No one walks the innovation road without encountering problems or even failure. But fearing the consequences of failure will surely stifle creativity and innovative thinking. In a culture of innovation, teams are given the breadth needed to safely and fully explore new ideas before launch. For example, as part of our design process we create user persona and stories (based on actual learner needs) to help our teams design in the right context.


Collaboration: Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I have learned the hard way that you can’t launch an innovation initiative by sitting alone in your office. To foster innovation, we provide our team with many opportunities to participate in structured collaboration and we build teams to ensure that an innovative idea becomes a reality.


Innovation is more than ideation, or discovering new offerings for your clients. It is about implementation--taking an idea to fruition. Innovation is an ongoing, intentional and sustainable way of engaging in business that drives results inside and outside the company.