On Generating and Maintaining an Innovative Organizational Culture

How do successful organizations cultivate creativity? And what is it that makes generating and maintaining an outstanding organizational culture so challenging?

The organization’s capacity to innovate, as well as its creativity and connectivity are increasingly highlighted as essential for success. The concepts of “innovation environment” or “innovation ecosystem” are referred to very often in this context.

When describing a creative organizational culture in more detail, case-examples of start-ups and influential Silicon Valley enterprises pop up in various publications, and it seems Richard Florida’s theory of the “creative class” is still dominating many discussions.

I believe that given a chance, any individual or a group of people can adopt a creative mindset and participate in generating original innovations.

And I think the best innovations are created by breaking the silos and getting a multi-disciplinary team of experts from different departments collaborating on a shared project, and by introducing and applying service design methodology at the workplace.

This view is based on my own experiences with co-design so far.

But I think many professionals that have experience of working in similar teams might agree.

Service design processes and methods can be of assistance in generating new, innovative concepts and in streamlining existing services — as well as generating and maintaining a culture of co-creation.

I think organizing co-design workshops based on recent analytics and research can help an organization to boost and foster a creative culture at the workplace and to refine the personnel’s capability to innovate.

Obviously, there are costs involved in gathering analytics, conducting initial research and organizing any co-design process, in terms of human resources, time and money.

However, co-creation and co-design may yield significant benefits, both internally and externally.

As I’m a planner, I have only so much to do with strategy implementation in my current organization. But I think reflecting on and aligning one’s own tasks with shared strategic objectives is important.

And similar thought should be given to the team’s role in the organization, and to one’s role in a team.

An important notion here is that each team as well as each individual is equally responsible of committing to the organization’s common goals and values as well as mutual respect.

One of the core values of my current organization is “together”.

I find that my co-workers in the FNG are an enthusiastic and inspiring group of professionals.

A creative environment is often described as “dynamic” and “open” — it supports fresh ideas, it is emotionally safe and compassionate, and its atmosphere promotes the freedom to brainstorm. In such an environment, debates are considered positive, conflicts constructive, and moderate risk taking is allowed.

As a result of this kind of atmosphere in the organization, new ideas emerge and flourish, and they have enough time and space to take shape. And even more importantly, the people enjoy working together.

Service design methods and intrapreneurship combined can yield the very best of results, when they are applied in a way unique to the organization’s culture.

Soren Kaplan, the author of the best-seller “Leapfrogging”, says that when we are “cultivating innovation”, we are, essentially, “cultivating a unique system”.

Kaplan’s notion is echoed in the recent book “Strategy That Works: How Winning Companies Close the Strategy-to-Execution Gap” by Paul Leinwand and Cesare Mainardi. According to the authors, what makes the distinctive internal practices and capabilities of successful organizations so special is the fact that they cannot be easily replicated by others in the same field. In that sense, creating a unique organizational culture and supporting an innovative ecosystem pays off.

In the aforementioned book, Leinwand and Mainardi emphasize, that the most successful organizations:

  • Commit to what they do best instead of chasing multiple opportunities
  • Build their own unique winning capabilities instead of copying others
  • Put their culture to work instead of struggling to change it
  • Invest where it matters instead of going lean across the board
  • Shape the future instead of reacting to it

According to the authors, these are the five essential practices for connecting strategy and its execution.

Having given various issues quite a lot of thought last year in the middle of facilitating a series of workshops on our digital strategy implementation and other tasks, I eventually decided to document some of my thoughts on different topics related to my work and some of my other interests in this blog, now also found via the domain name http://lifeofaplanner.fi.

I have been surprised by the amount of unique visitors and visits here, as well as the amount of positive feedback from colleagues and other friends.

Thank you for reading and all the comments!

About Co-Design Disciplines and Workshops

How to make sense of the numerous co-design disciplines and choose the correct methods of design? And how to apply this methodology in a workshop environment?

An excellent Aalto University research group called INUSE has recently created a “Co-Design Journey Planner”, which I found to be very inspiring as well as useful.

This framework is grouping different approaches to co-design under four different dimensions, entitled “Inspiration”, “Investigation”, “Cooperation”, and “Community”.

The nine main co-design approaches are then listed as follows, starting from the designer-centered end, and ending in community-based practice:

  • User Inspiration
  • Developer Immersion in Use
  • User Experience
  • Human-Centered Design
  • Collaborative Design
  • Co-Creative Design
  • Firm-Hosted User Design
  • Hybrid User Innovator Community
  • Independent User Innovator Community

Of these methods, the first two, “User Inspiration” and “Developer Immersion in Use” are characterized as the most designer-centric methods. The purpose of the first method is to gain impressions in order for the designer to renew and re-envision old categories and models of thinking. The second method is about the designer’s experience in the user domain, mainly about the context of use of a product or a service. These are the methods that are most useful in the context of getting inspiration when creating something new.

In the opposite end of the spectrum, we find the community creation phase and methods, with two different main categories, or “User Innovator Communities”, characterized here as “Hybrid” or “Independent”. The “Hybrid” one is a partially independent community, empowered by a third party, whereas the latter, “Independent” one hands over the design and maintenance of products or services to the community of their users. To me, these seem like the most mature models of co-design.

In-between, “User Experience”, and “Human-Centered Design” come in handy in the investigation phase of creating a new product or service or improving the existing ones.

The co-operation, in turn, is emphasized in “Collaborative” and “Co-Creative” design.

You can see the nine disciplines listed here: http://codesign.inuse.fi/approaches

The role of designers and design in creating new products or services or improving on the existing ones is crucial, as well as getting the intended users involved in the design process. But choosing the correct methods of co-design can be challenging. The above framework can certainly come in handy in the process of getting the designers and users to converse deeply and create outstanding products and services.

In my current job last year, I facilitated strategy-based co-design workshops regarding digital service design.

Even if your organization only employs a few designers or planners, it can be useful to workshop and create an environment where co-design can happen. Looking for a concise list of the elements of a successful workshop, I found this one by Paula Wellings:


Of these pro tips, I found the most useful ones to be “establishing shared reference” and “evoking the mission”. Unless there seems to be a shared sense of purpose, the workshop results may not prove very useful for many reasons. When organizing a co-design workshop, creating a shared mission is paramount. Once the mission is established, the rest will follow, and different methodologies may be applied.

On the Digital Dimension and Creativity

This week, I stumbled upon a somewhat uncommon article in the Harvard Business Review – an article on creativity, and more specifically, creativity in digitally or technologically driven organizations.

The author of this article quite straightforwardly states that in order to succeed, tech-savvy companies should really hire more creatives – instead of merely hiring more people who excel in business analytics, or even instead of hiring people who have hard core skills in creating new software.

(You can read the full article, by Tom Perrault, bluntly entitled “Digital Companies Need More Liberal Arts Majors”, at the HBR website: https://hbr.org/2016/01/digital-companies-need-more-liberal-arts-majors.)

Coming from a design background, and moreover, a background in philosophy, I think that we could certainly do with more of us in technologically oriented companies. However, I also think there’s much more to success than simply hiring a designer, or a philosopher, or several, for that matter.

Much like the author here, I find what the management of any successful digital or otherwise technology-oriented company really needs to do is to “create the type of culture in which creatives thrive”.

Having done some reading on this issue, I previously wrote about it in a post entitled “A Structure of Unstructured Time” in this blog last year (https://iiriskblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/28/a-structure-of-unstructured-time/).

To briefly recap that post, the point I wished to make was that in relation to creating an innovation-oriented culture was that employees should perhaps be given some “unstructured” time to act as “intrapreneurs” in their respective organizations. This is the kind of culture that many prominent companies like Apple and Google seem to make it a point of supporting and sustaining.

Most digital and technological innovations – or at least the very best ones – tend to require the early input of a creative person, or a group of creative people.

I firmly believe that many people, given a chance to, can act as creatives, regardless of their vocational background. Only hiring a creative marketing posse for the product or service hardly makes any sense.

What really makes or breaks success, then, is having and maintaining a creative organizational culture.

Me and Mr. Jorma Ollila

So I got to feature in the same Wired Magazine article as Nokia’s former CEO Mr. Jorma Ollila once.

I was 16 at the time. You can read the full article online here:


This article offers a brief glimpse into the world of the Finnish company Nokia during its emergence and heyday.

It has been over 15 years since Steve Silberman visited Finland and that article was published in the Wired Magazine, but much of what has been written there is still relevant. Nokia’s R&D department was confident already before the turn of the millennium, that wireless technology will evolve in the direction of what we might call “augmented reality”. In fact the term seems to may have been coined by Nokia’s Hannu Nieminen, head of Nokia’s Visual Communications Technology laboratory back in the days.

Here’s a quote from the aforementioned article, “Just say Nokia”:

“– The long-range vision, however, is delivery of what Nieminen calls “augmented reality.” Once we stop thinking of the phone as a handset with a keyboard, it becomes the point of contact between the personal bubble and the global datasphere – it could be a transmitter/receiver worn on our belts or as a piece of jewelry. The display technologies will, in Nieminen’s words, evolve toward “applications that bring the information close to your senses”: eyeglasses, earphones – wearable wireless. Combined with locational services like GPS, the network could not only know where you are, it could also know where you are in relation to others.”

Sound familiar, Apple and Google?

Anyway, I believe the future of digital media and tech will be in “augmenting” our experience of the world. This, I believe, is why apps like Spotify that on the one hand promote serendipitious discovery and on the other hand are based on utilizing the data of the user’s previous actions and preferences, are gaining in popularity.