Innovation – Nature or Nurture?

‘Yes’, there’s broad consensus that a holistic approach (incorporating Direction/Intent, Execution/Delivery, Collaboration/KM & People/Organization) is the best way to innovate, and ‘No’, there’s broad agreement that there is no one way to drive innovation (bottom up, top down, a mixture etc – it all depends on the company) but one interesting question remains….can every company innovate successfully? Is Innovation based on ‘Nature’ or ‘Nurture’?

Essentially, is an enterprises ability to innovate based on innate or inherited qualities (i.e. is it fixed) or is it based on various experiences and influences (i.e. can it be changed or learnt)?

There’s a lot in the literature/blogosphere about an organization’s Innovation DNA – Skibstead & Hansen in their recent Fast Company article state that ‘companies have their own inherent (Innovation) DNA’ for example. On the other hand, Roy Luebke in a recent blog post, commented that ‘business leaders who want to increase a firm’s innovation output need to invest in new capabilities and structures focused on delivering new things’.

This apparent contradiction suggests to me that the actual answer to the ‘Nature’ vs. Nurture’ question is ‘both’ – an enterprises ability to innovate successfully does depends on it’s ‘foundation’ (it’s starting point for innovation) but that, importantly, that foundation can be changed (or built on) to match your desired outcomes.

So what do I mean by a companies ‘Foundation’ in the context of innovation – I mean it’s capability, capacity and readiness to innovate that results from the combination of:

  • It’s employees, their strengths/weaknesses & mindset
  • The company itself, it’s history, structure & leader
  • The markets & industries it serves, their pace of change & their geographies
  • …and ultimately it’s perspective on the Volatile, Uncertain, Complex & Ambiguous (VUCA) universe we’re all in, and the change that results, as opportunity or threat

Understanding your foundation, your starting point, is critical before launching any innovation programs as it’s the base you have to build on and it will determine not only how much you need to change to be successful but also where you need to focus. Fortunately, we can help with that!

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