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The Few Versus the Whole: Why They’re Your Best Bet in Creating a Culture of Innovation

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Culture of Innovation

Over the years we’ve observed that focusing energy on developing deep belief among a few people is the best way to create a culture of innovation.  Research by scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute confirms this. They reported, “…when just 10 percent of an organization holds an unshakeable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority.” The unshakeable belief was defined as “True believers: People who are completely set in their views and unflappable in modifying those beliefs.”

Basically, culture change follows the Bass Diffusion model. Efforts to change “the whole” at one time rarely sustain. Rather, you need to start with a small, highly committed group. When the group with unshakeable belief permeates throughout 10 percent of the organization, then the new mindset spreads. 

Without unshakeable belief, you have virtually no chance of creating a culture of innovation. The Rensselaer professors found: “When the number of committed opinion holders is below 10 percent, there is no visible progress in the spread of ideas. It would literally take the amount of time comparable to the age of the universe for this size group to reach the majority.”

From thousands of experiences, we’ve learned that reading a book (sadly even my books) is unlikely to create unshakeable belief. Watching a video or even attending a class won’t do it. Books, videos, and classes provide foundational understanding, but not belief. 

Unshakeable belief only comes from the hands-on application. To quote U.S. Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

To develop an unshakeable belief, employees are first educated in how to innovate and are then given the tools to innovate. Most importantly, as part of course requirements, they’re required to apply the new mindset and methods on a wave of projects that are within their sphere of influence. 

The next step is the application of their new confidence on a wave of bigger projects. The innovation zealots are involved in the hands-on creation of ideas and of turning them into reality. They confront and resolve the multitudes of “death threats” that are inevitable with meaningfully unique innovations. 

Ideally, upon completion of the second wave, they achieve mastery certification. Certification is more than a credential to add to a resume. When properly designed, the requirements align with what it takes to build unshakeable belief. A US Department of Commerce study found that this method works. On average, those who achieved mastery lead an innovation pipeline that has a valuation 28-times higher than those who simply attend training but don’t achieve certification. 

This process of learning combined with direct application works. The biggest challenge we’ve observed is the need for what Dr. Deming called “constancy of purpose.”  It can’t be a start and stop. It needs to be focused and continuous to be successful. 

Doug Hall is an inventor, researcher, educator and craft whiskey maker. He is founder of the Eureka! Ranch, Innovation Engineering Institute and Brain Brew Custom Whisk(e)y. He’s been named one of America’s top innovation experts by Inc. magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Dateline NBC, CNBC, CIO Magazine and the CBC. His new book, Driving Eureka! Problem Solving with Data Driven Methods & the Innovation Engineering System (Clerisy Press, Oct. 16, 2018) describes how to transform innovation from random acts to a reliable science. Learn more at doughall.com.

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