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How do you foster a culture of innovation? - Executive Roundtable

Posted by: Astrid Hall 23 Mar 17  | Advice |  Current Issues |  Technology

We were excited to host an Executive Roundtable Breakfast surrounding ‘Commitment to Innovation’ in the heart of Bristol. Held at innovation and tech incubator space, Engine Shed, we hosted a morning of compelling discussion and diverse opinions in relation to the question, ‘How do you foster a culture of innovation?’

Led by Glyn Blaize, Founder and Director of Northstar Innovation Group, the morning kick-started with Glyn’s personal experience in tackling innovation. Coming from a background in business management and consultancy, Glyn ironically opened with the words, “I haven’t got the answers”.

Glyn talked about how he feels the education system isn’t preparing his children for the real world, to the point that he actually decided to educate them in his own way by taking them around the world for a year to explore the realities of life. His experience has had a huge impact on his children’s ability to think and problem solve, with the talk then leading swiftly into the discussion of educating the next generation on ‘How to be innovative’.

Kirsten Cater, Academic Director for the Centre of Innovation at the University of Bristol then went on to explain how the Innovation and Entrepreneurship course at the University is working to create the next generation of innovators.

She explains, “What we currently teach students is their single discipline but actually that’s not enough nowadays. The world is a massively engaging place and we need to teach students the ability to be agile, adaptable, innovative and entrepreneurial; whether that’s doing start-ups themselves or intrapreneurial, within existing organisations.”

Intrapreneurialism cropped up a number of times during the discussion, as businesses need to expose this opportunity of innovative thinkers. However, this creative thinking needs to be nurtured.

Keith Watson, Director of DevOps at ADP, picked up on how risk-taking isn’t as quickly encouraged in the business or educational world. He said, “For me, the problem with businesses is the pressure to always achieve the goals and almost unwillingness to accept failure. I think you need to create an environment and give people that opportunity to try things out and get it wrong.”

The discussion took a turn towards reflective learning and how the ability to forge an environment that fosters innovation is never that straight forward; that there are a number of contributing factors at play. Diversity comes in all shapes and sizes (excuse the pun); physical environment, team collaboration, specialisms, gender, culture, ethnicity, and the list goes on.

Paul Lewis-Borman, Founder and CEO of start-up technology, Meetzoo, furthered the conversation. He explained, “One of the biggest challenges for any business fostering innovation is giving people the space and time.”

Sam Jenkinson, our Group Director of Business Development illuminated how the power of bringing people together from different divisions in a collaborative environment can help address innovation.

As the morning rolled on, the conversation elevated to highlight a key inhibitor of innovation – investment. Richard Potter, Director of Innovation at Sopra Steria summed the challenge up in just a few words, “Innovation is the journey from an idea to an invoice.”

This commitment that businesses make is a crucial pillar in the foundations of innovation. Richard Potter explains, “Ideas are easy. How do you get organisations that are relentlessly focused on P&L to shift focusing on value?” His question stirs with the other attendees for just a moment. The innovation commitment made by start-ups and global businesses has a clear divide. Where large businesses need to persuade the hierarchy to spend money to make money, the start-ups must rely heavily on the angel investments.

Andy Rogers, Co CEO of Amdaris, touched on this and explained, “It can take a long time to take an innovation to being monetised. It takes time, a lot of investment, a lot of energy, and a lot of other people to get the ‘bug’ and the vision for it, that’s the problem.

“If people don’t get hold of that vision then you can find there is a lot of creative people producing but it is the businessman that adopted those ideas and allow ideas to reach out as far as they could.”

The ultimate conclusion for the money addressed a number of contributing factors to innovation and fostering an innovative culture. Richard Noyle, Head of IT at GWR explained how the business is often restricted by traditionalism. Although a business fuelled by leadership, the solution is not always that easy to implement in order to create change and innovation.

Is innovation personal or organisational? Well, it’s both. If you were to attempt to conclude the heated question of “How do you foster a culture of innovation?” there are clearly going to be an unfathomable number of answers.

It wasn’t surprising that a number of executives have competition-like opportunities to come up with innovative ideas. Employees are given openings to put forward ideas and gain investment and this is where the personal meets the organisational.

From grassroots innovation, where the employees working on the project identify a problem and innovate a solution, to developing teams that collaborate from all specialisms, demographics and perspectives.

Innovation must be committed to financially. Businesses must create a structure that identifies the best ideas to invest in and take a risk, but not be averse to failure.

However, it all starts very early on from the level of education available to the next future of hires. As Kirsten very humorously pointed out, the real world does not have a pass or fail exam assessment at every stage. We must be able to adapt and learn; be diverse to accepting the ideas and contributions of others. Fostering a culture of innovation takes commitment, collaboration and cross-pollination.

If you would like to be involved in the next Executive Roundtable please get in touch with Astrid Hall at



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