Innovation culture

"Culture" often appears in our discussions as a catch-all way of talking about influences on innovation that fall outside of the usual innovation management and policy discussions. The problem is that these influences include things as wide-ranging as – what makes some people and some places, some organisations and some milieux more entrepreneurial, more creative, more receptive of new ways of doing things?  These are all things that are swept up in the term "culture". But the good news is that though these are big questions, a great deal of solid research addresses them. Numerous unanswered questions arise that require further research, but there are bases of evidence and knowledge on which this can be developed. The Innovation Culture mini-study explores some of the main lines of research that have emerged over the last few decades, and describes some of the highlights found in our literature review.  

The mini-study focuses mainly on the "spatial" and "organisational" dimensions of culture, which have attracted most attention when innovation is discussed. The "spatial" dimension concerns culture as it pertains to nations, regions and city-regions (including the "clusters" that may exist within these areas). Thus there are topics raised concerning, for instance, the attractiveness of specific locations to the "creative class" (cultural facilities may well be an attractor); the readiness of markets to adopt innovations; and assessing the amount of creativity and innovative activity underway in a given area. The "organisational" dimension is taken up, in respect of economic organisations, with questions addressed at how corporate, small business, and/or public sector cultures facilitate, inhibit, or otherwise shape innovation.

Across many of the specific lines of analysis, one recurrent conclusion is that we should see culture as shaping innovation rather than just accelerating or slowing it; indeed culture can be seen as part of the innovation system. This is strikingly clear in discussions of culture in specific geographical contexts (e.g. "creative cities") and organisations ("creative organisations"). A rapidly growing amount of literature is addressing just what cultural, environmental and managerial features foster generation and adoption of innovations, and attract and reward innovative individuals and effort. Strategies to build innovation-enabling cultures are being elaborated in the light of these studies. For instance, cities may need to look beyond the supply-side (training and retaining graduates, attracting "star" scientists, etc.), important though this is. Supply-side measures need to be complemented (and may indeed be facilitated by) cultural strategies - fostering thriving artistic scenes, vibrant cultural spaces, relaxed parks and suburbs, and the like, to attract the creative class.  Methods to foster creativity can be applied within firms and other organisations, as can – with more difficulty - climates supportive of innovation and risk-taking. But just as not all innovations are necessarily beneficial (even if they find markets!), so not all kinds of risk-taking are supportive of sustainable growth and innovation. "Cultural engineering" to identify and build on the more promising styles of innovation and risk-taking – and on the precautionary principles, professional ethics and assessment methods that can avoid excesses - is a challenging task. Management research discusses strategies for shifting organisational culture in support of different goals – which is rarely a short-term task. The mini-study suggests that orientation to innovation and creativity should be among these goals, since these are critical to the competitiveness of firms and the effectiveness and legitimacy of public services.

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