Lessons in Business Culture: 8 Traits of the Most Innovative Companies

April 26, 2016

Innovation is a silent, powerful force behind the world’s most successful societies. It drives economic growth, improves standards of living, and fills a variety needs—including those we didn’t realize existed.

There is evidence to suggest that the innovator Thomas Edison, the holder of more than 1,000 patents, consistently told his laboratory of researchers, “There’s a way to do it better—find it.” This spirit of innovation drove the creation of world-changing inventions like the incandescent light bulb, and today’s most successful business leaders strive to harness that same spirit in their own groundbreaking companies.

In spite of a wide and diverse spectrum of industries and interests, company cultures that drive innovation have the following eight characteristics in common:

1. Technologically modern

The teams that create unprecedented products rarely do so using outdated technology. Companies that foster a culture of innovation know that their employees need access to the most up-to-date resources available and will put the necessary software or hardware in place for these teams. In addition, the firms behind the world’s most innovative products and services are adept at selecting only those technologies that can truly benefit them and ignoring those that will not add value to their products or their operations.

2. Risk tolerant

Innovation demands risk. Companies that drive markets and invent new ideas value workers who take calculated risks, and they encourage this practice by establishing certain freedoms from the traditional accountability structures of 9-to-5 positions. A company with a culture of innovation makes room for experimental work environments, where employees are allotted time and resources to explore passion projects, and models appropriate risk-taking behaviors through examples set by leadership.

3. Well-staffed

Innovative companies are renowned for hiring “the best of the best.” They develop creative recruitment strategies and value demonstrably talented employees who are naturally curious and quick to offer up new ideas. A company with a culture that fosters innovation will bring a diverse group of professionals together to develop cross-functional teams, experimenting with combinations of individuals that may not typically cross paths in the normal course of business.

The environment for this kind of collaboration is always one of interpersonal support. Associates of all departments and backgrounds are open to new ideas and supportive of colleagues’ attempts to redefine norms and experiment with groundbreaking concepts.

4. Flexible

A culture of innovation within a company requires that employees not be restricted by the rigid outline of a traditional business structure. Instead, the companies that drive innovation focus on carrying out business practices that are in the best interest of development and progress. This includes establishing open lines of communication between different levels of staff, flexibility in work patterns and work location, and allowing employees hired for one skill to try their hand at another when the opportunity presents itself.

5. Empowering

The success of an innovative business is contingent upon the caliber of the work its employees do. Workers who are expected to closely follow instructions or risk administrative retribution will not search for inventive ways to accomplish tasks and will be reluctant to integrate creative ideas into their daily work routine. A company with a culture of innovation empowers its employees by allowing them some control over projects and rewarding those who take initiative.

6. Intelligently connected

Innovative companies look for opportunity everywhere, not only within their own organizations. Companies that form advantageous partnerships with other firms can enhance the impact that their own product makes on the market, becoming a powerful force in the development of new market breakthroughs. The shared knowledge that comes from combining resources with an external business partner facilitates the discovery of fresh opportunities and pioneering products.

7. Sustainably innovative

After a successful company has established an innovative culture, it works hard to maintain it. Innovation by nature requires a constant state of growth and experimentation, and the most avant-garde businesses do not shy away from these practices once they have grown comfortable with their market position. The mission to continually push boundaries and never stop looking for new opportunities is critical to any business that wants to sustain a culture of innovation for the long term. These companies do not settle as a rule, and are not shaken by the prospect of reinvention when the occasion calls for it.

8. Led by example

Above all, the cultures of companies leading the pack when it comes to innovative products and services are always directed by leaders who practice the revolutionary tenets of business that they preach. Without the appropriate role models, employees will rarely have the confidence or the courage necessary to challenge accepted industry standards, and will not bring any unparalleled concepts to the table. Leaders of innovative business cultures work hard to exemplify the bold actions that they want to see replicated throughout the hierarchy of the company.