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Driving Cultural Harmony - the Me the We and the Enterprise

Innovation's 20 year evolution...When Open Innovation transformed things

Over the years the idea of innovation in Corporate America has meant many different things. From product innovation, to process innovation, to partnering innovation the fads of how we create something better by thinking and acting differently will continuously evolve. In the late 1990's we saw a real breakthrough in the concept of innovation from a cultural perspective when Open Innovation was born. This movement which challenged how companies think about producing innovation reshaped how innovators talked about doing their jobs. In the early 2000's, this concept made it ok to partner, ok to look outside for the answer and most importantly it enabled innovators to connect with each other to create game-changing results. One of the most successful examples of Open Innovation's success at the time was Procter & Gamble. The early days of open innovation saw its CEO A.G. Laffley create a cultural value proposition that focused on Open Innovation. When he mandated that 50% of all ideas will come from the outside, Laffley stuck a cultural stake in the ground that forced the employees of Procter & Gamble to holistically embrace the power of Open Innovation

Over the past few years, however, I have been should this idea evolve? Simply stating everyone should look to anyone or anywhere to find great ideas doesn't a culture make. In fact, I would argue that even though many companies have fundamentally embraced the idea that Open Innovation is a good idea, their reality is very different. In fact, I would argue that innovation today is several things...

1. Cordoned Off - Innovation is still an idea that is centered somewhere in an organization. Like most things operational, people's need to measure things concretely in the business world. They have a deep need to lasso them into a place so an eye can be kept on them. And this is often how most companies structure their innovation effort; siloed with a leader and a team tied to a business.

2. Corporate Irrelevance - While its true that most companies play the revolving corporate vs. business separation followed by integrating it back into the business game, most times innovation is a happy band of corporate misfits also cordoned off in a group with a focus on keeping the company innovative. This reality allows most business leaders to simply ignore them unless they need something. This approach leads to a place where the wonderful concepts like open innovation are alive and well where the nerdy gang doesn't get why the world doesn't get it.

3. A Sad Excuse of How they Don't Wanna Do It - This is probably the worst. When companies feel pressure to grow, they either cut everything out but the lights and re-expand overtime to a place they were before or they have a giant innovation initiative with a thought leader who is a figurehead of change. A boss of mine once warned me much earlier in my career in the innovation & change game that many companies will hire a VP of Innovation so they can figure out how they don't want to innovate. In short, their fearless leader works to change how things are being done only to find themselves fired because the company realized they didn't want to change anything in the first place (hello...I suffered this fate).

4. Hidden Among the Masses as a Platitude - This is probably how most innovation is done. It s fucking platitude or phrase that is supposed to permeate everyone and everywhere. It could be "Act like an Entrepreneur" or "Be Innovative Drive Change" or something like that. In this case, people who are merely operational wonks spread the gospel by using this idea as a way to control the masses. In fact, the sad part here is that there are people stuck in their role with real innovation chops excited by this prospect only to watch people who are political beasts get the "innovation credit" they don't deserve. These lame asses are just way more skilled and dressing down their peers with their "platitude sword" to show everyone just how good they are being a little more risky that their weak culture can tolerate.. And those real innovators dying to see the true culture every company claims to have? They are relegated back into hiding doing their jobs, dreaming of the day when they have the guts to stand up and revolt rather than mumble with the other misfits over coffee each morning at how much they aren't appreciated.

So what's next? How about this idea...

This brings to what is next. It is quickly becoming my opinion from experience and the literature that in order to get organizations to fully embrace a concept like open innovation it is critical to create a total culture of innovation where all people within an organization embrace thinking and acting differently.

If we think about this in fact we can actually come up with a very simple way to align culture to make things work. In any corporate setting there are three pieces: the me, the we and the enterprise. What does this mean and why is it important to think about when we discuss innovation culture. Let's break it down...

The ME: These are the individuals that make up any organization. As Robert Rosenfeld often claims, "companies don't innovate, people do!" And if this is the case each person who works in any company is critical to the success of creating an innovation culture.

The WE: The WE is the collection of ME's who come together to interact as a group to create competitive advantage. These are the group's that execute projects, build and create novel programs and develop strategies that produce the results for the company.

The ENTERPRISE: Essentially, this is the company. The Enterprise the holistic entity that gives shape and purpose to the ME's and WE's who create value for companies. The ENTERPRISE is an important piece of the puzzle to call out because it sets the tone with its Mission, Strategy, Credo, Vision and Culture. The ENTERPRISE represents the boundary by which any company operates and within the ENTERPRISE are the individuals who work together to deliver against its wishes.

When thinking about an innovation culture, it is critical for these three things to be aligned in unison for synergy to happen and game changing results to ensue. Stop and think about it. If I can get the individuals or ME's to look inside themselves to understand who they are better as well as get them to respect the differences between themselves and the other ME's collaboration will happen. If the ME's are self aware and respectful of the diversity of thought that exits, then when the ME's are put together to work on problems they will be a better functioning WE. In addition, if we understand how to put the ME's together into better WE's we will get more predictable and more valuable output from their efforts as WE's. And ultimately, if the enterprise can create clarity of its innovation needs by which it expects the ME's to behave then it will create cyclical alignment between all three and this is what it takes to create innovation productivity.

So in essence...ask yourself if I want my entire company to innovate or my function or my team, have I aligned the ME, the WE, and the ENTERPRISE? But an even better question is who do I awaken the MEs to understand who they are, why they do things, and they must respect the other MEs around them to creat those WEs? And that is for another post....

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