Fuller

Building a Culture of Innovation

August 21, 2020 • De Pree Journal

Just as in agriculture, innovation requires the right environment to thrive.  The soil is as important as the seed.  And most Christian organizations, as we have seen, are calibrated to nourish what already exists.  They are not calibrated to be rich soil for fragile seeds – or to be a friend of the new.  Leaders do not innovate. Instead, “a leader of innovation creates a place – a context, an environment – where people…do the hard work that innovative problem solving requires.” The environment the leader creates is called the organizational culture.

Culture is crucial.  Culture forms the informal rules by which people navigate working together.  The beliefs and values about how things should be – the mental models that comprise the organization – band together to create what we call organizational culture.

It is easy to discount the power of organizational culture.  Most leaders who want to make changes focus on structural changes.  They change a job description or they hire a new person to fill an old job description.  But, as the management giant Peter Drucker liked to say, “Culture eats structure for breakfast.”  I think of it this way.  Culture is like the tide in the sea or the current in a river.  We humans might concentrate on the boats that we make to steer us where we want to go, but the current on a river is far more important. And any captain who ignores the current will end up stuck on the rocks.  If we are going to organize for innovation, we will need to address congregational culture.

There has been a lot of good scholarship recently focused on how to create an organization where innovation blossoms.    This rest of the chapter will describe the characteristics of such an organization. There are any number of ways of presenting the themes that appear in these studies.  This chapter will follow the contours that Harvard’s Linda Hill and her team use to describe organizations that create what she calls “collective genius.”  She identifies five characteristics of innovative organizations.  We will look at each of these five in turn. They are:

(a) an identity-creating purpose,

(b) communally-shared values,

(c) diversity-rich collaboration,

(d) discovery-driven learning, and

(e) integrative decision-making.


Dr. Scott Cormode is a senior fellow at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership and is the Hugh De Pree Associate Professor of Leadership Development at Fuller Seminary. The Hugh De Pree faculty chair was established by the family of the late Hugh De Pree, an accomplished leader and former CEO of Herman Miller, Inc., and brother of Max De Pree.

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