Catalyze Innovation that Advances Health

Research on Culture of Innovation

There is lots of evidence and many great examples of how these seven elements have supported a culture of innovation in organizations.

Research on Risk-Taking and Innovation

  • 3M rewards ‘intelligent’ risk taking, trying new things and learning from failure. Ideas are allowed to go ahead to further testing, or even release to customers, as long as risks are acknowledge up-front, studied as well as can be expected short of actually doing the test of the idea, and mitigated against to the extent reasonably possible. One of 3M’s foundational principle is: “Management that is destructively critical when mistakes are made kills initiative; and it is essential that we have many people with initiative if we are to continue to grow.”
  • CEO of SAS UK, Jim Goodnight, notes that his organization works hard to create a corporate culture that “encourages employees to try new things and yet doesn’t penalise them for taking chances.”
  • At animation studio Pixar, the practice of showing unfinished work each day liberates people to take risks and try new things because it doesn’t have to be perfect the first time.

Research on Resources and Innovation

  • The “GameChanger” program at Shell Oil Company fosters innovative ideas from staff by “…providing appropriate, staged financing for their development”. The program “…strives to develop real businesses that are outside and between the companies existing lines of enterprise by following a process outside the constraints and priorities of Shell’s day-to-day business”.
  • Both Nike and Asda encourage employees to ‘think for two hours a day”.
  • Google allows its employees to set aside 20% of their time for innovation and use it to develop projects that they feel passionately about.
  • 3M have an HR policy that allows all staff to spend up to 15% of their time working on promising new ideas, and provides even more resources and time for those ideas that meet criteria indicating that they show the most promise.
  • Engineers at Hewlett-Packard are encouraged to spend up to 10% of their time on their own pet projects and have 24-hour access to laboratories and equipment.
  • At Gore Tex, staff get to spend 10% of their work hours as ‘dabble time’ to develop their own ideas.

Research on Knowledge and Innovation

  • Proctor & Gamble has set a stretch goal of having 50 percent of its new project portfolio come from ideas originating outside its own four walls. “We had to move from ‘not invented here’ to ‘proudly found elsewhere’”, notes one senior leader. “When we talk about innovation, we’re not just talking about technology. If someone has figured out a better way to communicate with the consumer, that’s of great interest to us. If there are new ways to distribute our products that better meet the consumer needs; that’s innovation.”
  • Merck’s head of R&D states, “Every senior scientist here running a project should think of herself or himself as being in charge of all the research in that field. Not just the 30 people working in our lab but the 3,000 people, say, in the world working in that field.”
  • Julian Richer of the hi fi company Richer Sounds has realized the benefits of encouraging employees from different departments and branches of the company to meet up. This happens once a month and has resulted in many fresh or innovative ideas for improvement and collaboration.
  • Eli Lilly has a strategy to tap into experts from outside the company by bringing specific problems to virtual (online) arenas. It founded InnoCentive, a wholly owned subsidiary, to bringing outside researchers’ attention and energy to the drug development process through an incentive system.
  • The highly-successful design firm, IDEO, encourages its designers to transfer ideas across their project and team boundaries. Organizational routines for the acquisition, storage and retrieval of solutions are embedded in the culture and supported by work structures. New employees are encouraged to seek and give help as required and to share their knowledge.

Research on Goals

  • I know what the priorities or goals are in my team, organization or department.
  • My direct supervisor makes it clear that innovative new ideas are highly desirable.
  • Priorities come down to me without pre-determined solutions, leaving me plenty of room to contribute my own ideas.
  • Senior leadership has made it clear that innovative new thinking is required to meet some of our team or organizational goals.

Research on Recognition

  • I am certain that I would receive recognition or praise from my direct supervisor if I put an innovative idea forward.
  • The recognition that we get here for coming up with new ideas does motivate me personally to be more innovative.
  • We celebrate and say thanks when someone tries out a new idea, even when it is not successful in the traditional sense.
  • Senior leadership actively seeks out and recognizes innovative thinking.

Research on Tools

  • My team, organization or department has trained me in methods to support creative, new ways of thinking.
  • My team, organization or department uses specific methods to generate creative ideas around the challenges we face.
  • I am capable of generating creative ideas.
  • Senior leadership actively demonstrates innovative new thinking in its own work.

Research Relationships

  • In my team, organization or department, people who think differently are respected for their point of view.
  • The teams that I work on tend to have people with a diverse mix of skills and styles.
  • In general, there is a high degree of honest and open communication between teams, organizations or departments.
  • Senior leadership models high levels of cooperation and trust among colleagues.


All of the information on the Elements of a Culture of Innovation, Assessment, and Tips for Leaders were adapted from Maher, Lynne, Paul Plsek, Jenny Price, and Mark Mugglestone, (2010), “Creating the Culture for Innovation: A Practical Guide for Leaders” published by the National Health Service (NHS) Institute for Innovation and Improvement in the United Kingdom