How to foster a culture of innovative thinking

by John Hilton04 Dec 2015
In order to foster a culture of innovative thinking, senior managers first need to know what an innovative outcome looks like, said Dr John Munro, Melbourne University’s head of exceptional learning and gifted education.

He explained to L&D Professional that in a workplace, there will be some people who will have the capacity to think innovatively that will allow them to generate outcomes that are innovative.

“They have an innovative thinking profile,” he said.  

“However, many senior managers and gate keepers are often not skilled in recognising this.”

One aspect of this is being able to generate what Dr Munro calls “intuitive theories” about possibilities, ways of doing things differently, or solving problems. This exists between the capacity to think innovatively and the innovation.

It is where the employee perceives a problem and forms a theory in their mind that explores options of ways of dealing with that, he said.

Dr Munro explained that once a possibility has been formed, it needs to be evaluated to gauge how it will work, where it will need fine tuning, and perhaps it won’t work at all.

“In order to get those intuitive theories the person needs to think innovatively: they need to be able to visualise possibilities and then look forward and evaluate it and see how they work in that context,” he said.

“As well, they often need to be prepared to persevere with the thinking rather than give up, particularly when they hit a temporary brick wall. They need to be able to tolerate one or two options at a time.”

Another crucial factor is the need to know how to bring other people along with them, Dr Munro said. 

He added that sometimes you will get people who have the potential to innovate and will think of these possibilities, but they never communicate them.

“They never share them with anyone because they believe that the work place culture won’t value the innovative thinking or allow that to happen,” said Dr Munro.   

“The tall poppy syndrome doesn’t value difference or change.”

“You get creative outcomes and innovation when a person sees a problem or issue and links two ideas that previously had not been linked. This helps them see possibilities for doing things more easily, or differently.

“I believe that a lot of Australian workplaces don’t know what to look for to get innovation. They don’t recognise or support the things that are critical to getting the innovative outcomes.  They believe that the innovation will just somehow happen, randomly and without planning.” 

In fact, a lot of the innovation that comes about happens when individuals create their own space and do it for themselves, he said.

“They do it in their own really small company. Bigger companies and institutions stifle innovation and are often threatened by it.”