Building a Culture of Innovation: Dave Martin, Digital Director & Product Strategist

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Product managers are well placed to share learning from failure and to drive a culture of innovation, and so Dave Martin, Digital Director & Product Strategist, talks to ProductTank London about how to build Culture of Innovation in Enterprise Organisations.

Learning Fuels Innovation

If you’re looking to use innovation to drive growth, then you have to be able to take an idea and translate it into a product or service that creates value. This process of translation is often overlooked and underestimated. Rarely is it possible to make an idea a reality first time, meaning that you have to be comfortable with trying something, getting it wrong and learning from the process. These lessons will drive you towards an eventually successful product.

To Learn you Need to Fail

Many people know that you need to fail in order to learn. However if you want to consider the process as seriously as you should, then you need to start measuring it. How many times you fail and the sizes of the lessons you achieve through them should be metrics you track in your operation, to help you understand your learning velocity. When it comes to innovation, this is at least as important as your product outputs.

Why do you Need a Culture of Innovation?

In business, culture describes the operational environment in which you operate. It has a huge impact on the likelihood of a team feeling as though they are empowered to fail and learn. Successful startups typicaly find this easier than most other companies, and often pay particular attention to sharing the failures they encounter across the whole business. No one blames anyone, fingers aren’t pointed and nobody gets fired because “it didn’t work”. All that happens is they reflect, learn the lessons, and try again.

Within larger enterprises there is often a desire to be agile and work in a way that embraces failure, but rarely is this put into practice. Usually it is excused by saying that the business is too complex and large to operate at that pace, and the risk is too high. However, underneath that is usually the reality that the company culture is not able to give the allowances people need to to work in an innovative way.

Enterprises reward success, which makes a learning culture difficult. When you focus only on successes, you make it very difficult for an individual to share their failures because failures are typically seen as negatives, rather than learning opportunities. When stories of success (or “best practice”) are shared they are rarely able to help drive a new idea in other areas. Even the most innovative people in these types of organisations will often end up hiding their failures until they get it right – further fueling a poor learning culture.

If you Can’t see Your Outcomes Then you Can’t Learn

To use Dave’s analogy, if a golfer hits a shot and isn’t able to see where the ball ends up, then they will not know how they need to refine their technique. The same is true for the way we work – if we can’t see the outcomes, we’ve no idea whether we’re improving or not. Too often in business, we aren’t able effectively to measure or communicate the outcomes we see, so we aren’t able to learn as efficiently as possible.

Culture Beats Process Every Time

When people run digital transformation projects in organisations, they almost always forget to focus on the culture into which they are implementing new processes. If they aren’t trying lots of different ways to drive a learning culture, then they’re more likely to fail. In this situation, product managers are well placed to work across their organisations and share lessons to help drive the cultural change that is needed.

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