When you’re focused on future growth, culture eats strategy for breakfast.
You may have heard that pithy reminder about the power of organizational culture to create unity and shared missions to reach the future faster. Conversely, when culture doesn’t align individual goals and values with organizational goals, there are rough roads ahead. It’s not that strategy isn’t important. In fact, Strategy, Leadership Innovation, and Culture all are crucial components of future vision and growth.
Is your organizational culture future-ready, or rooted in the past?
People are the messy part of any journey to the future. We can be subject to biases, resistant to change, and we have been known to behave unpredictably and make emotional decisions. That’s why we need shared:
- Mindsets, to evolve and understand our potential
- Stories that cause us to engage us and take action
- Culture that fosters resilience and growth in an uncertain future
It starts with your organization’s mindset
In 2019, along with Bill O’Connor and Kyle Hermans, we conducted a survey of 126 leading global innovators and innovation leaders, asking them a series of questions to learn about what’s working for them in producing tangible, real-world innovation outcomes.
The results showed that the concept of an “exponential innovation mindset” was clearly the most commonly cited and passionately discussed. That’s not surprising because organizations that develop the shared mindset that 10x growth is achievable are the ones who achieve that growth. Organizations stuck in a mindset of incremental growth need to start with dialing in the right mindset before they begin their transformation journeys.
We used this near-universal interest in mindset as a spark to create a diagnostic technique to help people assess the strength of their current innovation mindsets, and also to enhance them as much as possible. That research was further developed into an innovation framework that appears in the recently released Future Ready book.
Here are some questions to help clarify what mindset means for your organization:
- Why is an exponential innovation mindset necessary for future growth?
- How do you make it tangible?
- How do you keep it going at your organization?
- Can the mindsets of individuals and organizations be measured?
- What are the expected outcomes and ROI from an innovation mindset?
Defining your terms
The four quadrants in the book’s Future Ready framework that support the Future Enterprise are 10x Leadership, Strategy, Innovation and Culture. One reason innovation projects fail to get traction is simply that the terminology used within the organization is poorly defined. Vague definitions work fine for casual discussions, but for organization and peak performance, precision language is necessary.
For example, among your friends, you may share and discuss songs you like using informal language, slang, or perhaps just emojis. But the conductor of a symphony orchestra relies on very specific musical notation, terms, and conventions to keep everyone on the same page. If the conductor says that the Piano Sonata modulates from G major to D major in the scherzo movement, every musician is expected to know what that means and act accordingly.
In exponential organizations, it’s equally important to have all the players agree on the organization’s mission and North Star Goals. Then, the relevant definitions of Leadership, Strategy, Innovation, and Culture for your organization can be established. Over many engagements, we have learned that the question
“How do we define future vision and strategy for our organization?”
“How do we transform our business and leverage the latest technologies?”
Just as your organization needs a shared mindset, your leadership must agree on what the term innovation means to your organization. If members of your executive team and board have been engaged in self-education and separate discussions, they are sure to bring different ideas about what “innovation” means to the table. That’s one reason we take the time to create visual models and frameworks to put our terms into context.
Great Stories Fuel Great Organizations
Since ancient times, stories have formed the foundations of how we understand the world, create personal connections, and build communities. We are a species that’s hard-wired to create and share stories.
We all understand that the future holds some grand challenges. Tesla’s story, or mission, is “to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport by bringing compelling mass-market electric cars to market as soon as possible.” Tesla’s story is meant to underscore that they are not just making stylish electric sports cars for wealthy customers. Tesla is out to change the world.
“Love is what makes a Subaru a Subaru” is the story Subaru tells about love, family and community service. The Subaru Love Promise is “a pledge to do right by the communities in which we all live and work.” Subaru’s narrative includes the company’s dedication to “building fuel-efficient vehicles in eco-friendly plants, with zero-landfill impact. The brand also has donated more than $50 million to causes including pets, the environment, charitable giving and more.
These stories become more than your brand promise or marketing campaigns. They are at the heart of our ability to understand our environment and create shared ideals and goals, why do so few organizations use them effectively? The story of a purpose-driven company that’s making a positive impact on the world is a story everyone wants to support.
Technology is the easy part
Wise individuals have pointed out that though digital transformation is the primary driver of the massive changes we’re seeing, the technology is the predictable part. The human and cultural aspects of change are nearly always more challenging and complex than the technical aspects, in our experience.
Digital transformation, another well-worn buzzword in the halls of the Fortune 1000, is important, but it’s a small slice of the transformation story for enterprise organizations. Your IT department could do an amazing job in replacing your aging technical infrastructure, moving services to the cloud, and corralling your data into an accessible form that fuels your company’s innovation. But if few people in your organization understand and take advantage of your future-ready technology, your organization will realize the expense of digital transformation without the benefits.
People and culture are the hard part of creating meaningful future growth to ensure your organization’s survival. Plan accordingly. The Harvard Business Review sums up the relationship between culture and strategy well:
“Leadership goes hand-in-hand with strategy formation, and most leaders understand the fundamentals. Culture, however, is a more elusive lever, because much of it is anchored in unspoken behaviors, mindsets, and social patterns.”
10x culture and exponential enterprises
True future-ready enterprises are built on a foundation of extraordinary people and 10x Culture. A 10x Culture is one that enables a diverse group of individuals within an organization to align with a shared mission, tackle massive challenges, and achieve global impact. A future-focused strategy, powerful innovation capabilities, and bold leadership are all necessary components in building an exponential enterprise. A 10x culture is:
- Crucial to scaling the enterprise and focusing on discovering and unlocking future value.
- Able to continually reinvent itself, and reimagine what they do to achieve future growth and impact.
- Emboldened to challenge the status quo and courageous in pushing the organization in new directions. — one that digs deep to understand leadership, strategy, and innovation components — is the greatest achievement of an exponential enterprise. It’s also the most challenging because it requires that 10x Innovation, Strategy and leadership components be in place. But once that culture is in place, your organization’s future vision becomes much clearer and more promising.
The future is full of new exciting opportunities we have yet to imagine, let alone understand. But first, we must create a 10x culture where we empower individuals to recognize when the old way of delivering value no longer works, how we will make it better. With that, you will reach the uncertain future a little more quickly and confidently.
Charles Warnock is an author, tech journalist and Principal Consultant at contentmarketingfactory.com.
Nick Davis is a Managing Partner at Reaching the Future Faster, Inc. and the prior Global VP of Enterprise Solutions and current Faculty Chair for Corporate Innovation at Singularity University. Nick is a recognized thought leader in the innovation space who specializes in identifying exponential trends that enable enterprise organizations to deliver customer value through new and existing technology platforms.