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The Five Characteristics of Successful Innovators

There is not much agreement about what makes an idea innovative, and what makes an innovative idea valuable. For example, discussions on whether the internet is a better invention than the wheel are more likely to reveal personal preferences than logical argumentation. Likewise, experts disagree on the type and level of innovation that is most beneficial for organizations. Somestudiessuggest that radical innovation (which does sound sexy) confers sustainable competitive advantages, butothersshow that “mild” innovation – think iPhone 5 rather than the original iPhone – is generally more effective, not least because it reduces market uncertainty. There is also inconclusive evidence on whether we should pay attention to consumers’ views, with somestudiesshowing that a customer focus is detrimental for innovation because it equates to playing catch-up, butothersarguing for it. Even Henry Ford’s famous quote on the subject – “if I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said fast…

Connection culture creates a marketplace of ideas that fuels innovation: Michael Lee Stallard

Connection culture creates a marketplace of ideas that fuels innovation: Michael Lee Stallard
The best time to establish a connection culture is when an organisation is born Michael Lee Stallard tells Ankita Rai

How do employee connection and community translate into competitive advantage for an organisation? Is focusing on the financials and operations at the cost of employee connect really such a bad idea?

High performing teams that achieve sustained success have connection cultures. The neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman describes connection as a 'superpower' because it makes people more productive, healthier and happier. When people feel connected to their teammates, they have a cognitive advantage and they perform at with greater energy and enthusiasm. In addition, they give their best efforts, align their behaviour with the leader's goals so that everyone is pulling in the same direction, and are proactive when it comes to contributing to innovation and overcoming obstacles. These benefits add up to provide a powerful source of competitive advantage.

In contrast, disconnection sabotages team performance. Leaders need to focus on achieving financial and operational excellence because organisations exist to achieve results. The problem arises in that the positive results are not sustainable unless the focus is on financial, operational excellence and on achieving relationship excellence.

In the book Connection Culture you write that organisations rarely have a uniform culture. In fact, organisations are comprised of many subcultures. In such a scenario, how can a leader recognise the subcultures that are not fit for the company?

To identify the types of subcultures that exist throughout the organisation, management needs to implement an annual employee engagement survey that assesses whether managers are delivering on the organisation's stated core values. Most employee engagement surveys include questions that help identify whether a subculture is connection, control or indifference but many fail to assess core values. A combination of objective and subjective feedback from the survey enables leaders to see which managers need help. It provides evidence to help managers see their blind spots so that training, mentoring and/or coaching can then be provided to develop the managers into leaders people want to follow. People follow managers because they have authority to hire, fire, pay and promote. People follow leaders because they connect. And that makes all the difference when it comes to performance.

Please share examples of leaders who have fostered connection cultures in their organisations?

U2 is a fascinating example of a connection culture. People booed and laughed at U2 in its early days yet it went on to become one of the greatest bands in history with more Grammy awards that any other band and the highest revenue producing tour ever.

Bono, U2's lead singer, lyricist and leader among equals, creates a connection culture by communicating an inspiring vision and living it, valuing people and giving them a voice. The band's vision is reflected in its music, which is about human rights and social justice, issues that Bono and his wife live out through their organisations that provide humanitarian relief in Africa. The members of U2 value one another by backing each other in bad times. They share profits equally among the band members and their manager. Each member of U2 has a voice. They give each other constructive feedback. These are just a few attributes of U2's culture that work to connect them.

How does workplace culture impact employee engagement? Does it have an impact on a company's core competencies and its ability to produce breakthrough innovation? 

Connection culture boosts employee engagement whereas cultures of control and cultures of indifference reduce it. Core competences are diminished in cultures of control and cultures of indifference because execution is less effective in such cases.

When it comes to innovation, connection cultures encourage participation and engagement in conversations related to innovation. This creates a robust marketplace of ideas in an organisation that fuels innovation. For example, Google has done a phenomenal job of nurturing connection cultures with its values and practices that encourage connection and spur creativity and innovation such as TGIF and G2G.

does an amazing job at this, too. Ed Catmull, Pixar's CEO, has pointed to Pixar's connection culture as a primary contributor to its phenomenal success. Everything encourages connection. Practices that nurture connection include the design of space in Pixar's Emeryville, California, campus, Pixar University that gives employees the option of participating in four hours of courses each week with colleagues, and the brain trust practice that gets directors together on a regular basis to provide constructive feedback on their work. Catmull understands that intentionally nurturing a sense of community and shared pride in Pixar's work provides a competitive advantage that attracts, engages and retains the best talent. He encouraged Disney Animation to nurture a connection cultures and now that organisation is flourishing, too.

What are the key takeaways from a connection culture-led organisation for young entrepreneurs (start-ups)? Or is the idea of connection culture more appropriate for big organisations?

The best time to establish a connection culture is at the birth of an organisation. Culture is the predominant attitudes, language and behaviour of a group. The culture established at the birth and early years of an organisation become its DNA, part of its identity.

face inevitable challenges as they test, learn and adapt. Absent connection, the people involved in a start-up are more likely to turn on one another when they face prolonged periods of adversity. With connection, however, they pull together and overcome adversity. Think of it this way, connection transforms a dog-eat-dog culture into a sled-dog team that pulls together and wins the race from start-up to survival.