The Psychology of Innovation and Driving Organisational Culture


What do PayTM, Apple, Google, Amazon, Netflix, Kindle, Uber and Air B&B have in common?

Well let’s see.

  • PayTM democratised cashless payments.
  • Apple democratised personal computing.
  • Google democratised information.
  • Amazon democratised commerce.
  • Netflix democratised content with anytime, anywhere access.
  • Kindle democratised books also anytime, anywhere access.
  • Uber democratised transportation.
  • Air B&B democratised accommodation.

All of them achieved success in a relatively short period of time and are very wealthy companies today. Consumers are proud to use and employee are proud to be a part of these enviable success stories.

As one tries to decode the reasons for the success, the unmissable theme that runs across is innovation that makes access simpler for the largest number of people. They chose not to improve the norm incrementally, but bounce to the next level of the game. At the end, make it look so simple and so obvious that it makes us wonder why no one thought of it before.

While these innovative brands have attained an iconic status, there is a certain kind of culture within organisations which naturally promotes creativity. Here are some key factors which define the culture of such organisations.

Innovation and Creating Meaning or Value

Organisations that start out to create meaning for its customers as opposed to profits, are the ones who innovate. The reason is simple. Companies where the MISSION is more important than profit drives unrelenting passion in employees. PayTM for example did not become a great brand because it wanted to make money as the prime objective. But it wanted to help build an electronic payments or cashless economy in a way which is easy to access and operate by the masses and not just the classes. Making ‘meaning’ through innovation means that you will change the world for the better. In the process, the business WILL make money.

Innovation and Collective Contribution with Collective Prosperity

The companies that truly innovate understand collaboration to be the core as opposed to individual efforts and working in silos. This point merit a slight deep dive. Collaboration in innovation works at two levels.

Internal Collaboration: Today our workforce is diverse – multi-cultural, multi-ethnicity, multi-generational, multi-skilled. Organisation structures have evolved from pyramids to networks. Which means that millennial don’t function in a command and control way, but collaborate and contribute  way. Futuristic organisations leverage this.

External Collaboration: External collaboration challenges that very core of ‘the usual way of doing businesses.  It’s the very base of business models such as Youtube. It’s in business because users are uploading content. With Uber – anyone can be an Uber Cab. So ensuring the collective good for everyone involved.

Innovation and Default Setting

Most companies and managements are trained to ‘minimise risk’ and standardise practices. This means that conformity is promoted as the default behaviour and attitude. Companies that are truly aspiring to be innovative and creating meaning for the world, creates a culture of ‘doubting the default setting’. They choose to focus on transformative, break-through far end of the spectrum ideas. Henry Ford wasn’t thinking how to make his horses go faster, but how to get the power of several horses in one machine. Or Apple did not think of making better music discs, but they created the iPod making most music devices extinct.

Innovation and Technology

If you can imagine it, technology can make it happen. Companies such as Amazon, PayTM, Uber etc have truly leveraged technology to build some very solid brands. Not only did it solve consumer problems in new ways, but technology helped ‘massify’ some very fundamental services. The future will hopefully see the birth of many more business/consumer ideas using new-age technologies such as Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, et al. Times are exciting for the organisations that would hold no bar to wild tech thinking.

Innovation and Tenacity

The chances of getting to a truly remarkable innovation the first time is one in hundred (or less). Therefore, statistically speaking, one needs to fail 99 times in order to get to a truly great path breaking innovation. So failure is a great thing. What’s problematic is, is the attitude to failure. As Thomas Edison said ‘I did not fail 1100 times. But i discovered 1100 ways in which a light bulb doesn’t work. Organisations that favour creativity and innovation promote an encouraging and resilient attitude in the face of failure.

Innovation and Competition

Last and definitely not the least, innovative companies work on outdoing their own last performance. Sometimes they are ahead of the competition and sometimes behind. But they work on the belief that the race is long and at the end only with themselves. No one at Apple right now is thinking about what was the market share of Microsoft in 1990 compared to their own. Google right now is not worried about the fact that when they were born in 1998 Yahoo was THE Search Engine. In the end it’s about your own milestones.

And finally…

Innovation is the only path to progress. Leaders play a critical role in creating the environment where ideas flourish. They create reward and recognition system for innovation. You can do the same. Start by asking yourself these questions

  • a) Are the employees truly collaborating or are there constant rifts?
  • b) Do they have clarity on what’s the meaning the company wants to create in the world, or is the mission statement just a bunch of words that hangs on the wall?
  • c) Do bosses support employees when some of the ideas fail?

Once you can get to ‘Yes’ to the above three questions, the organisation is ready to scale newer heights.


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