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Josh Linkner on Building a Culture of Innovation at Work

By Sarah Kamp
May 14, 2024
3 minute read

As an HR leader today, your responsibilities extend far beyond designing comp and benefits plans. You’re also tasked with cultivating ingenuity and adaptability across your workforce — traits that are key to navigating today’s volatile business environment and meeting the challenges of the future. 

That’s why we invited Josh Linkner, innovation expert and author of “Big Little Breakthroughs,” to keynote EmpowerHR Americas. Josh’s approach to fostering innovation puts the power to drive positive change in the hands of your workforce. 

Discover how to make innovation a daily habit rather than a eureka moment, so that you can build a confident organization that not only adapts to change but also emerges stronger on the other side.

Encourage small innovations daily

Build a culture of agility in your organization by fostering big little breakthroughs every day. Start by instilling a daily habit of experimentation in your teams. One way to do this is by creating what Josh refers to as a “to-test” list that everyone can help build out. “Anytime an idea pops in your head — big, small, weird, doesn’t matter — don’t judge it, don’t analyze it: Just stick it on the list,” he said. “The mere existence of a ‘to-test’ list will boost your creativity.” A shared list like this will keep innovation top of mind for your employees and allow them to build upon each other’s ideas. 

Enacting the ideas on your “to-test” list promotes a culture of controlled risk-taking and experimentation. Employees need to know that it’s okay to take a chance on a new idea, especially if they can test it in a safe environment. Run small, quick tests of new ideas cheaply and iteratively before scaling anything to neutralize the risk of trying new things. “Don’t assume it’s not going to work,” Josh said. “Why not just run the experiment? Give it a shot. Let’s see what happens.” 

Everyday experimentation will empower your teams to solve problems and adapt to change in ingenious new ways, every single day. Although not every idea will succeed, failures are just as important as wins. Celebrate failures alongside successes to build an environment where people feel safe taking risks and putting their creative ideas into action every day.

Break conventions to fix processes 

To break conventions and fix outdated processes, you must be willing to disrupt the status quo. Take a lesson from innovator Fiona Fairhurst, who was tasked with developing the fastest swimsuit — and disregarded conventional wisdom to achieve outstanding results. The status quo suggested that swimwear needed to be small and smooth to support speed and agility. “But Fiona disregards that advice,” Josh said. “She says, ‘Oh no, I’m not going to do that. I’m going to break it, to fix it.’” 

Instead, she took inspiration from sharks and designed full-coverage, textured swimwear. “When Fiona launched this bathing suit, industry colleagues laughed at her. They thought this was a joke,” Josh said. “But within two years of its launch, it was responsible for 80% of competitive medals around the world.”

You can apply the same creativity to reimagine stale work processes. Don’t be afraid to break old ways of working that may be holding you back in order to explore new possibilities. Discarding the annual performance review process in favor of continuous performance management, for example, can transform performance outcomes.

“We need to let go in order to move ahead: letting go of what was in favor of what can be; letting go of what is already there in favor of what’s possible,” Josh said. “And that’s a hallmark of innovators, and something that we can embrace as HR professionals and inject deep and wide in our organizations.”

Stay open to unexpected solutions

The phrase “there are no bad ideas” takes on new significance in a culture of innovation. You must remain open to ideas that may sound preposterous on the surface, because often those ideas are most revolutionary. “Let’s challenge ourselves a bit to go out on a limb, to look for those oddball, unexpected, unorthodox ideas, because sometimes those are the most effective,” Josh said. 

By encouraging an attitude of curiosity and playfulness, you’ll empower your teams to look beyond standard solutions. With this mindset, your organization can stay nimble enough to solve not just today’s problems but tomorrow’s in ingenious new forms.

Want to learn more? Catch EmpowerHR on demand to hear more perspectives on the changes and challenges facing HR leaders today.

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