Creating the Spark! How do you create a culture of innovation?


The second of four weekly blogs with John Russell’s reflections on Ofwat’s digital campaign —Spark!

Last week, in my first Spark! blog, I touched on how innovation is about more than just shiny kit, how customers must be central to how the water sector approaches innovation and about how innovation is ambitious, imaginative and exciting.

In episode two of the campaign, we heard from big multinationals and smaller disruptors that the recipe for a culture of innovation includes:

  • Baking in the space and time for people to think differently;
  • A large pinch of open and challenging dialogue across the organisation; and
  • a healthy dollop of learning when things don’t work first time.

Leadership fosters a culture of innovation to develop and thrive. Leaders can put in place structures that enable an innovative culture to develop in their organisation and, crucially, they set the tone for the organisation. As Robin Gilthorpe from WaterSmart highlights:

“Leadership can create a protective umbrella where it’s OK to fail. It’s not necessarily something that you celebrate but as long as you learn, that’s OK.”

This is not about companies going out and taking unnecessary risks. This is about how leaders, organisations and their customers can benefit from giving people a safe space and the time to innovate and learn in a controlled way. Charley Maher from Flipper says organisations, and regulators, need to “provide the means to innovate” not just tell people to innovate more.

To name one practical example of how you can create a culture of innovation – and I encourage you to look at some of the full interviews we’ve released this week on YouTube for lots more – Michael Wignall talked about how powerful objectives to work with others and share ideas have been at Microsoft.

I’ve always been a strong advocate of objectives in the sense of making it clear what’s expected. But this is a really interesting way of taking that a step further and ensuring that everyone in the organisation is (and feels like they are) helping to achieve a collective goal. I’m reminded of the cliché about when a janitor was asked what he did at NASA, he replied: “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”

This common sense of purpose is also key when organisations co-deliver or co-design projects and services. How collaboration with other organisations and your customers can help you to innovate is the focus of next week’s Spark! video. Stay tuned!

The third episode of Spark! ‘Making Sparks fly: Why collaborate to innovate?’ will be released on Tuesday 20 February 2018.

Please continue to get involved with the discussion around campaign using #SparkInnovation on Twitter, YouTube, Linkedin, Facebook and Instagram. Also, feel free to follow me on Twitter: @John59131249