Over 95% of business leaders get it wrong when asked what they think creates a culture of innovation. Luckily, research into the field of innovation provides clear guidance on what works for creating a culture where creativity thrives.

Following are five critical behaviours to engage in.

  1. Find the right amount of challenge

    Individuals feeling challenged by their work is a critical driver of innovation. Challenge refers to people working on tasks that are complex and interesting — yet at the same time not overly taxing or unduly overwhelming.

    Managers need to understand that this does not mean simply giving people the biggest possible challenge. Instead, ensure that the level of challenge set is one that is achievable. On the flip side, setting tasks that people are able to complete with their eyes closed will not breed a culture where innovation thrives.

    At GE, Jeff Immelt sets his executive team the challenge of generating three Imagination Breakthroughs (IBs) every year. IBs are defined as ideas that will generate at least $100 million in incremental revenue for the business. While this is a big ask, leaders have the resources of GE at their disposal to help make this happen over the course of a year. To date, the initiative has generated billions of dollars in revenue for GE.

  2. Take a risk, and stop seeing failure as a dirty word

    Failure is an unacceptable outcome in many organisations. It is generally thought of as a dirty word, and something that gets swept under the carpet when it does rear its ugly head. But being able to acknowledge and learn from failure is a huge part of building a culture where risk-taking is tolerated and innovation can thrive.

    Leaders need to signal that risk-taking is an acceptable part of business. Talking openly about failures and what can be learnt from them is a valuable place to start.

  3. Experiment before you implement

    Experimentation is a mandatory step in an effective innovation process. Rather than just going straight from idea to implementation, it is important to first experiment. This involves setting up hypotheses as to why an idea will add value to the customer and creating a minimum viable product (MVP) – the most basic version of the idea that will still allow for learnings. Designing an experiment to test hypotheses using the MVP is the next step. Based on the results, teams can iterate or change course accordingly.

    Experimentation is an effective way to help reduce the risk of new innovations.

  4. Loosen the reins

    Many researchers have found that creativity is dramatically enhanced when people are given autonomy. When employees perceive they have a choice in how things can be done, they are significantly more likely to engage in trial and error and, through this, find more effective ways of doing things.


    While goals need to be clearly set, managers must ensure that projects have flexibility in how they can be tackled, to allow employees to experience freedom and autonomy in their work.

  5. Have more arguments

    One of the factors that has been identified as critical for creating a culture where innovation thrives is ensuring that different points of view are encouraged and ideas are regularly debated. Managers should encourage others to debate and discuss ideas – actively encouraging different viewpoints will strengthen an organisation’s innovations significantly.

In addition, organisations need to avoid the temptation to recruit people who are similar in views and backgrounds to existing staff – doing so will only discourage debate and encourage homogeneity of thinking.