Chapter 23

Installing Innovation

Don’t Worry about Culture. Build a Systemic Capability

Many leaders believe building an innovative organization relies on culture. They look at innovation giants like Apple or Google and think, “If only we had a culture like theirs. The halls must hum with innovation. They have beautiful offices, fabulous cafes, great perks . . .” Lots of time and millions of dollars later, the company sports a gleaming new innovation center, festoons its walls with pretty posters, runs corporate innovation fairs to enhance creativity, and proudly displays the company ping pong tables. Just one problem: it’s very rare indeed for actual innovations to make it to market following all of that hoopla.

The problem with trying to change the culture of an organization is that it’s a bit like trying to hug a cloud—you can see and feel it, but it’s hard to get a grip on it. That’s why we encourage companies to focus instead on building innovation capabilities.

We define an innovation capability as an institutional ability to innovate reliably and repeatedly over time—meaning it doesn’t depend on luck or the talent of any single employee. Instead, it relies on an orchestrated set of organizational behaviors. It turns out that when your people act and think differently over time—and when they see different and better results emerge from these behavioral shifts—culture takes care of itself. Put simply, nothing spurs innovation across an organization like actually bringing a ...

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