Tank Event #1: Building a Culture of Innovation

Seven steps to take towards creating a culture of innovation

The first UK Innovation Pioneers tank event brought together a diverse group of participants from corporates, scale-ups and young people. The challenge we set for the day was: How can we create a culture of innovation?

Participants from BT, Tesco, Santander and the Ministry of Justice convened with Innovation Pioneers initiator organisations Wazoku, Freeformers and Abellio Greater Anglia at the Greater Anglia Academy in Stratford and spent the morning getting stuck into the what, how and why of creating a culture of innovation.

We’ve boiled down the inspiring discussion, divergent and convergent thinking, multiple post-it notes and rapid prototyping into seven steps that can help you create a culture of innovation within your organisation.

  1. Define it – before you start, it’s important to know where you are going and figure out what success looks like. This vision will dictate the strategy and ensure everyone is on the same page from the outset. It’s important to give individuals space to think in the first instance, as most studies find that a number of individuals working on their own will generate more diverse ideas than the same number participating in a brainstorming session. Then as a group we threw out one word or statement that defined a culture of innovation. These were:
  • Constant change
  • Not being afraid of failure
  • Personal accountability at all levels
  • Diversity of perspectives
  • Opportunity


  1. Consider the specifics – innovation can seem like a troublesome and unwieldy buzzword when it’s not broken down but by thinking about the context of specific scenarios or challenges – solutions and strategies flow more freely. The group defined a series of ‘I know, I wonder’ statements and questions to tease out the elements that contribute to defining a culture of innovation. This provides a framework to raise unknowns in an accessible way. The difficulty is always that we don’t know what we don’t know – starting with a known provides a jumping off point into those unknowns. Some examples were:

I know organisations don’t talk about failure

I wonder how they learn from mistakes to get to the right solution and learn from failure?

I know innovative companies have talented individuals working for them

I wonder how companies manage to attract people with the right mindsets

  1. Create personas – applying your ‘I know, I wonder’ problem statements to an individual makes it more defined, helps add focus to solutions and marks a shift to more user-centric thinking. Each group created a persona based on either middle management, frontline staff or someone yet to join the company and used the characteristics of that persona to consider the problem from a different and specific viewpoint.


  1. Map your user journey – set out a journey (two, four or six months work well) and highlight the important milestones where you’ll be required to convince your persona to actively build and contribute to a culture of innovation. What are the pains and gains this individual is likely to experience within a particular time period? For example for someone yet to join the company what does their first three months look like, from interviewing to joining the company to their first few weeks in the role and when might they face challenges. That way you have tackled the pain points and come up with a solution before the problem arises.


  1. No idea is a bad idea – when digging into the solution ie. what are you actually going to do to attract talent with the right mindset? Keep your ideas and suggestions as divergent and broad as possible – sometimes the least conventional solution can be the most effective and applying an idea from another context to your own challenge can open up opportunities.


  1. Refine the best ideas – apply dotmocracy to identify the most relevant solutions, then summarise them on a single sheet of a flip chart so they can be communicated concisely and clearly.


  1. Develop your experiment – our group developed their ideas and then presented them back to the group in 90 second pitches, but your final experiment might be testing a collaborative tool, inviting feedback on your ideas from end users or running an ideation session in a different way.


With these seven simple steps you can achieve something that might take weeks of conversations in a morning, when you use appropropriate tools and it’s facilitated in a structured way.


So if you are doing it for yourself remember choose a structure and stick to it, be militant with your timings and focus on having a real tangible output that you can test at the end of the day.


About Innovation Pioneers

Innovation Pioneers is a network for innovators, by innovators. Initiating companies from a mix of public and private sector organisations run our network on behalf of our members. Initiators and members are a mix of corporate, SME and Scale-up organisations, who’s shared vision is to build innovation capabilities through joint development, creating effectiveness, performance and growth in our member firms and broader society.


If you’d like to find out more about the Innovation Pioneers network and join our mailing list for future events please say hello: info@innovationpioneers.co or visit http://innovationpioneers.co/

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