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Does your business have a culture in which innovation thrives? Are people challenging the status quo and being encouraged by leaders to take risks in pursuit of innovation? Or is the opposite true, whereby people don’t take the time to listen to new ideas and suggestions?

Dr Amantha Imber is the founder of Inventium, Australia’s leading innovation consultancy, and she believes building a culture of innovation is hard work but important for growth. Here are five of the most impactful drivers of an innovation culture, according to Imber. 

1.      Challenge: find the right level

A strong sense of challenge in your work is a critical driver of innovation. Challenge refers to people working on tasks that are complex and interesting, yet at the same time not overly taxing or overwhelming.

It’s not about giving people the biggest possible challenge. Instead, you should ensure that the level of challenge you set is achievable. On the flipside, setting tasks that people are able to complete with their eyes closed will not breed a culture where innovation thrives.

Therefore, matching the level of challenge to an individual’s skill level is key. As a manager or leader, take time to thoughtfully consider how you allocate tasks and projects to people.

2.      Risk-taking and failure are not dirty words

The notion of failure being unacceptable resonates with many businesses. Failure is generally thought of as a dirty word, and something that gets swept under the carpet when it does rear its ugly head. But being able to acknowledge failure and learn from it is a huge part of building a culture where risk-taking is tolerated and where innovation can thrive.

As a leader, think about ways you can signal that risk-taking is an acceptable part of business. Talk openly about failures and what can be learnt from them with your team.

3.      Experimentation before implementation

When thinking about how your company approaches innovation, ensure that experimentation is a mandatory step. Rather than just going straight from idea to implementation, you should first run experiments.

This involves setting hypotheses as to why you believe an idea will add value to the customer and creating a minimum viable product (MVP), which is the most basic version of the idea that will still allow for learnings.

You can then set up an experiment to test your hypotheses using the MVP and, based on the results, iterate or change course. Experimentation is a very effective way to help reduce the risk of new innovations.

4.      Autonomy: it’s about loosening the reins

When people feel as if they have a choice in how things can be done they are significantly more likely to engage in trial and error and, through this, find more effective ways of doing things. Just be sure to set clear goals, as the autonomy effect is strongest when people are clear on what you want them to achieve.

5.      Embrace debate and welcome all views

Ensure that different points of view are encouraged and that ideas are regularly debated. Lead by example and encourage others to debate and discuss ideas you bring to the table – actively encouraging different view points will strengthen your innovations significantly.

In addition, avoid the temptation to recruit people who are just like you. Doing so will only discourage debate and encourage homogeneity of thinking. 

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