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Has company culture become a barrier to innovation?

Thomas Arenz

What is “culture”? It can be a difficult thing to define in words, and yet everybody inherently has their own version of what it means.

To me, culture is the result of thousands of little behaviours from people every day. What you do as a human being defines your own culture, much of which can be driven by your heritage and how you grew up.

In a business setting, this definition still applies. Company culture is the collection of thousands of behaviours every day by its employees. Again, much of that culture can be driven by the company’s heritage and people who have been at the business for a long time, which is often the reason cultures differ from workplace to workplace.

But for all its worth, is company culture beginning to hinder innovation? Innovation is widely touted as the holy grail for businesses - and if they can somehow achieve it or harness it, they will put themselves at a considerable competitive advantage. According to Samsung’s own recent research with electronics engineers, innovation forms part of the plans for 91% of organisations, while nearly half (47%) go as far as to say that innovation is their biggest priority for the year.

But despite its obvious attraction and importance, there appears to be a few barriers in the way, and company culture seems to be an important one of them. Nearly a third (28%) of engineers believe that culture is a serious barrier to innovation within their organisation, and 38% say that product design is regularly constrained by failure to innovate. Both of these numbers are worryingly high considering that, as I said before, the vast majority of organisations have innovation plans for the year.

When it comes to the specific areas in which engineers want to innovate, 61% are pinning their hats on increasing performance and just over half (52%) are looking to reduce cost. So what aspect of company culture seems to be getting in the way of achieving these goals?

According to those electronics engineers, there just simply isn’t the right process or formula in place to foster innovative thinking. More than half engineers (55%) rely on “casual collaboration” with colleagues to improve product design, and 28% rely on Eureka moments! Only a third say they look towards innovation as part of a formalised and structured part of their workflow.

It seems the problem is endemic, and it’s having a serious effect on organisations’ ability to truly innovate. Indeed, over a third (39%) of electronic engineers believe that innovation has slowed over the past couple of years.

It’s is never easy to change culture, but clearly something needs to change if organisations are to revolutionise their products and the way they operate. And given what technology is coming over the horizon, now is as good a time as any for organisations to set themselves up for success.

Half of engineers say they draw their innovation inspiration from technology suppliers. Well, the next couple of years are going to be a hugely innovative time.

Technologies like 5G are going to revolutionise how we connect to everything while unleashing a whole new set of applications. Artificial intelligence is going to make technology around us smarter. The internet of things is going to become even more densely populated and connected. The vision of the connected vehicle is going to become more of a reality. In short, the possibilities seem endless.

These technologies have the power to transform almost every organisation, and not just the tech world. Organisations should be looking at how these technologies can provide a platform on which to take their innovation efforts to the next level.

At Samsung Semiconductor, for example, we view intelligence, connectivity and experience as the three key pillars to driving the technology world forward, paving the way for organisations in any sector to build a platform of innovation and foster new ways of thinking and creativity.

There is so much opportunity out there - organisations just need to grab it before it’s too late. It all starts with changing those little behaviours every day that make up the company culture.

Author details: Thomas Arenz is marcoms director, Samsung Semiconductor Europe

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Thomas Arenz

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