Five Ways to Create Space for Innovation
We are delighted to announce that third sector pioneer Michelle Wright, winner of the Female Entrepreneur of the Year award at the 2011 Startups Awards has joined our community of bloggers. This is her first article, about how to create an environment which fosters innovation.
In my work with larger organisations, corporations and charities I often find teams struggling to find the time to innovate, managing large and busy programmes amidst an organisational culture that doesn’t allow the space for ideas generation. Conversely, I work with smaller enterprises and social enterprises that are brimming with the spirit of enterprise but with limited resources to make things happen.
I often wonder what might happen if the two cultures could meet in the middle?
If we consider the stereotypical leadership of these organisations – the larger organisation will usually make decisions based on a structured reasoned approach, whilst a smaller enterprise will seem to make up strategy in an almost improvisatory style.
It is true that the classic entrepreneurial personality traits of creativity, tolerance for risk and the ability to make things happen are not easy to teach. However, it would be wrong to think that entrepreneurial thinking is difficult to cultivate. We can all train our minds to look at our products and services in a different way and to improve on them. Similarly, we can all consider our own organisation and its strengths from the basis of the competition, allowing us to generate new ideas and gain insights into our own industry.
There are five areas in support of entrepreneurial thinking that I see as essential to bringing together the structured with the more improvisatory:
1. Focused vision: Ensure ideas are linked to a strong vision that allows employees to link their personal mission with that of the organisation to achieve mutual success.
2. Create space for originality: Allow time and space to innovate. How many of us get so busy that we can’t think or breathe? Entrepreneurial organisations will create 20% free space in any team’s agenda. Inspire innovative thinking and encouraging intelligent risk-taking that emerges from teams and individuals having time to explore and share new ideas.
3. Motivate employees: Encourage an entrepreneurial mindset that goes beyond individual reward. It’s a motivating attitude – employees want a say in how the organisation is run, to understand how it works and to be accountable and proud of meeting goals. Successful organisations will match the strength of individual interests and talent to organisational need.
4. Flexibility, nimbleness, and responsiveness are key: Develop a problem-solving culture where learning is accelerated, change is celebrated and employees take greater personal responsibility. Rapid cycles of experimentation where new initiatives can be discarded quickly and those with legs developed are key. As is the ability to cultivate important relationships with funders and investors that allow for investment in infrastructure and adaptation to new developments in technology and the marketplace.
5. Have courage and confidence: Push to the limits of what's known and understood. Great entrepreneurial organisations are continuously learning and have leaders that move away from making fear-based choices and rather make choices based on self-trust and vision. A healthy entrepreneurial spirit requires a capacity to move beyond obstacles created by fear.
As American entrepreneur Nolan Bushnell says “The true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer.”
So above all, be empowered to make mistakes – after all, mistakes are only opportunities to learn.
Michelle Wright trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and played the violin professionally. A chartered marketer, manager and fundraiser, Michelle co-founded award winning third sector organisational development and fundraising enterprise Cause4 in 2009 after leaving the London Symphony Orchestra, where her achievements in private sector fundraising led to her being judged the Best Upcoming Fundraiser at the National Fundraising Awards in 2008.
Michelle was the winner of the female entrepreneur category in the Natwest Startup awards 2011 and is a top 10 winner in the Ernst and Young Future 100 awards 2011 for entrepreneurs under 35 that demonstrate innovation in progressing a responsible business venture. Michelle is interim Chair of the national music charity Sound and Music and is a mentor for emerging entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs for the Aspire Foundation and Emerge Venture Labs.
Click here to read our hugely popular interview with Michelle from earlier in the year.
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