The Four Pillars of Innovation Capability

By: Justin Follin

February 27, 2017
The Four Pillars of Innovation Capability

There can’t be rules to innovation. Innovation is another word for breaking the rules (or, at least, bending them). It means doing something differently than has ever been done before. It means adapting to the changing world we work in fast enough to keep up and accelerate. Doing things differently requires a willingness to experiment, to fail and to learn from the failures you perceive around you.

And, in doing that, you see that there really is no such thing as failure. As Thomas Edison is purported to have said, “I have not failed. I’ve just discovered 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Of course, it’s easy to say this stuff, hard to implement in an organization that, like a ship, takes all hands to shift.

Innovation sounds great, but to a lot of us it’s another word for “risk.” For better or worse, though, taking risks and finding ways to adapt faster and faster is the name of the game these days (and it will likely only get faster). 

We call the organization’s ability and resiliency to adapt its “Innovation Capability.” Innovation Capability is an organization’s capacity to learn, adapt and work together in complex, changing industries. While there are no rules to innovation, there can be structures that support the development of Innovation Capability.

These structures we call the Four Pillars of Innovation Capability.

  1. A robust feedback system relying on honesty and empathy
  2. Alignment: among Executives, Managers and Directors, Teams
  3. Tools of Change and Innovative Leadership Development
  4. A process that anyone can follow to make change happen at any level

Think of these Pillars as indicators of a discipline—the discipline of being an innovative organization. When you lift weight in the gym on a regular basis, you’ll see results. Period. And if you don’t go, you won’t really notice anything at all until a few weeks later, it’s suddenly “Hey, I’m out of shape! How’d that happen?”

These Four Pillars point to the disciplines that keep an organization strong during times of transformation and change. Perhaps, more importantly, these disciplines keep an organization flexible and adaptable when change is a constant.

But discipline means prioritization and regular application. While the disciplines encased in the Four Pillars may often seem intuitive, at times even obvious, it’s rare that an organization stays consistent enough to see maximum potential. But the organizations that practice the disciplines of these Four Pillars see results. It’s not rocket science. These disciplines should be simple, clear, and applicable to everyone.

Questions you should be asking yourself to strengthen these pillars:

  • We want to develop our leaders, but what is the best way to have my team up their game?
  • How do we teach applied leadership skills that match our culture?
  • Performance reviews seem to take a lot of time, what is a better solution?
  • We know culture is important, but how specifically do we create and develop culture as we grow?
  • How do you quickly get everyone aligned when there is so much work to do?
  • How can we develop our people in a way that is fun, relevant, non-academic? (i.e., not boring?)