Innovation is the lifeblood of business and in the era of digital disruption it is also critical to survival for some organisations. Many leaders may vaunt it as one of their values and genuinely believe they promote it but new research suggests otherwise.
According to a study carried out by RADA in Business, four-fifths (81 per cent) of workplaces don’t have a culture of experimentation. Moreover, while one quarter (24 per cent) reckon their workplaces are desperately in need of new ideas and fresh thinking to overcome current problems, only one fifth (21 per cent) of employees believed anyone was interested in listening to their ideas.
Worse still, 16 per cent of workers said that any new idea would actually be treated with suspicion and criticism, while 15 per cent believed their business leaders actively discouraged innovation. It is far removed from the vision espoused by many leaders of their workplaces enjoying a collaborative and open communication culture where innovation is championed.
In response to this so-called “innovation gap”, RADA in Business, the commercial subsidiary of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art which provides communication skills training for corporate individuals, has been working with leading UK companies to transfer dramatic techniques, such as play and improvisation, from a theatrical setting to a business environment.
Kevin Chapman, director of RADA in Business, is concerned to see how many employees feel that creativity and innovation aren’t encouraged in their role “especially when there are simple techniques available to help companies to support and tap into the power of imagination for solving problems or developing new ways of working as a team,” he says.
Chapman recommends that businesses need to create space for people to play with new ideas “without being overly critical”. “Adopting an attitude of enthusiastic curiosity towards every idea that you come up with defies your critical voice and may lead the way to new innovations,’’ he continues.
The research found that government and local government workplaces are the settings where people find it hardest to think creatively (21 per cent). It also reveals that those working in IT (29 per cent) and financial services (26 per cent) find it hardest to make their voices heard, with companies often dominated by a few “loud voices”.
Interestingly, the workers who feel most able to think creatively are those working in teaching and professional trades (such as builders and plumbers), who are four times less likely to struggle with innovation than those in governmental jobs.
Whatever the sector though, it is essential that all leaders create time and space for innovation and put mechanisms in place for ideas to spring forth. Even if they don’t appear to be game-changing initially, they could provide the spark of inspiration for someone else. Adopt the mantra that all ideas are worth hearing about.
A true culture of innovation demands leaders to be more risk-taking, experimental and collaborative but above all, they must recognise the crucial part innovation plays in their organisations’ future rather than merely paying lip service to it. The research also stands as evidence of companies still not listening to their people, which has an extremely detrimental effect on motivation and ultimately recruitment and retention.
And with the most creative and innovative brands of the 21st Century also among the most successful – Apple, Amazon, Google, Tesla, Netflix et al – how much more tangible evidence do business leaders need before they elevate a culture of innovation to the top of their corporate agenda?