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The Hard Truth About Innovative Cultures (Harvard Business Review January-February 2019)

The Hard Truth About Innovative Cultures (Harvard Business Review January-February 2019)

Great article which outlines the challenge of innovation … not too tight (left-brained) and not too loose (right brained) … finding the agile-middle of an and-proposition.

It’s one part creativity, one part discipline.

Innovative cultures are misunderstood. The easy-to-like behaviors that get so much attention are only one side of the coin. They must be counterbalanced by some tougher and frankly less fun behaviors. A tolerance for failure requires an intolerance for incompetence. A willingness to experiment requires rigorous discipline. Psychological safety requires comfort with brutal candor. Collaboration must be balanced with a individual accountability. And flatness requires strong leadership. Innovative cultures are paradoxical. Unless the tensions created by this paradox are carefully managed, attempts to create an innovative culture will fail.

In other words an and-proposition!  The article outlines 5 and-propositions,  To make the point, I have inserted the word “and” in each as I much prefer it to their use of the word “but”:

1. Tolerance for Failure but [and] No Tolerance for Incompetence.

2. Willingness to Experiment but [and] Highly Disciplined.

3. Psychologically Safe but [and] Brutally Candid.

4. Collaboration but [and] with Individual Accountability

5. Flat but [and] Strong Leadership

The article goes on to identify the challenges with Leading the Journey:

 1. Because innovative cultures require a combination of seemingly contradictory behaviors, they risk creating confusion.

2. While certain behaviors required for innovative cultures are relatively easy to embrace, others will be less palatable for some in the organization.

3. Because innovative cultures are systems of interdependent behaviors, they cannot be implemented in a piecemeal fashion.

They then identify some specific actions to take:

1. Leaders must be very transparent with the organization about the harder realities of innovative cultures. 

2. Leaders must recognize that there are no shortcuts in building an innovative culture.

3. Because innovative cultures can be unstable, and tension between the counterbalancing forces can easily be thrown out of whack, leaders need to be vigilant for signs of excess in any area and intervene to restore balance when necessary. 

About Mike Richardson

Agility-Facilitator/Mentor/Coach; Agility-Author/Speaker; Agility-Board-Member/Chairman. All-round Agility Activist in everything I do, every day, everywhere, in every way. Provocative, Profound, Practical. At Eye-Level. With Love/Hate!

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