Bringing Focus to Innovation LeadershipPart one of this four-part series focused on innovation processes as a key driver of innovation given the complexity of organizations and the world. Since nothing happens in a vacuum (unless you’re in space or being sucked into a Dyson), this post focuses on… 

Context: Culture, Climate and Environment

Innovation Leadership might be thought of as having two separate but inextricably linked objectives: first, for leaders to support and demonstrate the toolset, mindset and skillset for innovation; second, to create a climate that nurtures and promotes the innovative competencies of others. Teresa Amabile, chair of Creativity at Harvard Business School, collaborated with the Center for Creative Leadership to develop an instrument called “KEYS to Creativity and Innovation.” This assessment is used to measure the climate of creativity in a team or organization. Her research demonstrated that people are at their most creative when they are motivated primarily by the work itself. The research demonstrated that there are three categories and eight factors that facilitate a climate for creativity. As you read these, consider whether these items assist or resist innovation in your organization:


  • Freedom: People have a sense of control over their own work – including the ability to decide what work to do or how to do it.

  • Challenging Work: People recognize that they have to work hard on challenging tasks and important projects.

  • Supervisory Encouragement: People see their bosses as good role models who set goals appropriately, support the work group, value individual contributions and show confidence in the team.

  • Work Group Supports: People feel they have a diversely skilled work group in which people communicate well, are open to new ideas, constructively challenge each other, trust and help each other, and feel committed to the work they are doing. 


  • Organizational Encouragement: The organizational culture encourages creativity through: the fair and constructive judgment of ideas; reward and recognition for creative work; mechanisms for developing new ideas; an active flow of ideas; and a shared vision.

  • Lack of Organizational Impediments: The organizational culture does not impede creativity through internal political problems, harsh criticism of new ideas, destructive internal competition, an avoidance of risk or an overemphasis on the status quo. 


  • Sufficient Resources: People feel they have access to appropriate resources, including funds, materials, facilities and information.


  • Realistic Workload: There is an absence of extreme time pressures, unrealistic expectations for productivity and distractions from creative work. 

In addition to these climate dimensions other things impact innovation in an organization including the organizational culture, sometimes referred to as the “maze-ways” – the ways that people negotiate the maze of the organization as opposed to the way things are supposed to work according to the org chart and employee handbook. The physical space also has an impact on innovation since people need the right space to work, think, and interact. And don’t forget about the economic environment, the broader cultural context of where in the world your organization does their work, and the regulatory environment, as these all have an impact on innovation in your organization.

What are some of the dynamics that help or hinder innovation where you work? 

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