Dealing with a Toxic Culture (Part 2): Potential chokeholds on innovation

Dealing With Toxic Culture Part 2: Potential chokeholds on innovation

part I of this article "Dealing with a Toxic Culture (Part 1): Where does it start?" can be found here

New book: The Innovation RaceIn our new book, The Innovation Race, we touch on an intriguing story about the development of today’s mobile phone software. The concept of the humble ‘app’, now a staple to millions of smartphones, was in fact suggested at a tech company long before Apple had even come up with the idea! So why is Apple known for the app, and not this other company?

The simple answer is that the suggestion of the concept of the app was only ever brought up once before being slammed. Mentioned by an intern, the idea was immediately mocked and quickly dismissed. Subsequently the concept was never brought up again, and the intern left the company with his innovative ideas soon afterwards. As a consequence Apple gained the competitive edge on the app market. Arguably, this outcome appears to have been related to a toxic culture. This leads to the question, what other opportunities have been lost in workplaces where dominance and repression can run a destructive course?

Defeating fear

A toxic culture inhibiting the potential success of companies is a common story. This can engender not just the fear of the controlling boss: the perfectionist who likes to decide in all matters, but also the fear of ultimate failure. In today’s world of 24/7 work pressures, created by a new interconnected environment, failure can feel like it is magnified. Although there is the time-old mantra, learn from your mistakes, it is questionable how often this concept is actually successfully implemented by the management.

Writer and education reformer, Saga Briggs, wrote in 2015 that when it comes to innovation the emphasis should be not on constant perfection, but on constant attempts. She proposes a plan of:

a) Not always waiting for perfect plans and managerial approval,
b) Pulling resources only when needed, and
c) Resisting the urge to over plan.

Briggs presents a compelling notion – that planning may not in fact be key to a productive working environment. Certainly, providing an environment that supports rather than stifling new ideas as they develop in their initial stages is critical.

Creating a safe space

Ask yourself, does your workplace strive for inclusivity of new ideas or does it simply pay lip service? It could be argued that until there is a safe space for new ideas to be aired, employees have little to no incentive in voicing them.

There is a need to both be open to these ideas and have systems in place to adequately implement them. Only when fear of failure is removed from this first step, can the (admittedly potentially initially disastrous, but ultimately potentially lucrative) ideas flow.

part II of this article "Dealing with a Toxic Culture (Part 2): Potential chokeholds on innovation" can be found here

Briggs, S. (2015). Now-ism: Why perfect scores don’t matter and what to focus on instead. Innovation Excellence.

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