Innovation  | 3 MIN. READ

Becoming an Innovative Company in Four Steps

Nathan Waterhouse, September 13, 2018

Becoming an Innovative Company in Four StepsIn my last blog, I talked about why there are no fast tracks to creating an innovative culture. If you want to change the way your people design products, make decisions, and build for the future, you have to change the way ideas are generated and supported at every step in your organization.

Many leaders mistakenly believe that hosting an innovation workshop, or hiring a team of designers is all they need to do to trigger change. But it doesn’t work that way. Hiring and training good people is an important step in the transformation process. But to achieve sustainable, value-driven innovation all the time, requires a significant culture change.

If you aren’t willing to make major changes, read no further. You aren’t ready to become an innovative, design-thinking organization. But if you are open to embracing change for the long haul, here is what you will need:


  1. Leaders with vision.

    For an organization to embrace innovation, its leaders need to have a clear vision of why the change in necessary, a clearly defined purpose for the change that they communicate to the entire company, and buy-in from managers and opinion leaders throughout the company to implement these changes – even if it takes years and causes significant upheaval along the way. If you aren’t certain how, what or why you need to change — or you don’t have the support for long term disruption that this change will cause — the transformation can’t be made.

  2. Proof that it can work.

    Transforming a company takes time, but if employees don’t see examples of change and how it works they will grow skeptical of your commitment. To keep them on board, invest in a few small but high profile pilot projects that can deliver quick tangible proof of how design thinking is being used to solve problems or launch new products. The best way to deliver these early results is to focus on a single project team or pocket of innovators. Give them the resources, training, and freedom to take a design-thinking approach to a real customer problem then trumpet their results to the rest of the company.

  3. Willingness to let go of old habits.

    When companies want to embrace design thinking for innovation they invest a lot of time and resources to implement new training, tools and ways of doing things — which is all important. However, they often neglect to eliminate the old ways of doing things that don’t align with a design thinking approach. This creates conflict, confusion, and ultimately can lead to failure. For example, if you encourage a project team to come up with transformational ideas for new products, but your funding process requires data showing how similar products succeeded in the past, the most innovative ideas won’t make it through.

  4. A long term training and communication plan.

    Training a single project team or department on design thinking can be a good way to sow the seeds of change, but it won’t drive sustainable change. Once you start to see results, have early adopters partner with other multidisciplinary teams as they make their own transitions, to get them excited about the new innovative culture, and to show them how letting go of old strategies can open the team to big innovations.


To avoid these obstacles, look at every aspect of decision-making in the company, and where old habits will clash with new, more desirable behaviors, then publicly communicate why these processes are being eliminated. Sometimes it's about what to stop doing (that might be holding people back) before you add something new.

Learn how to enable innovation skill-building at scale here or download our free ebook Kickstart Innovation: A Guide for Organizations.


Kickstart Innovation - A Guide for Organizations


Nathan Waterhouse is a keynote speaker and consultant on innovation and design strategy. At Treehouse Innovation he helps organizations grow their businesses through creating more human centred offerings in the world. Previously Nathan led new business ventures at world-renowned design and innovation firm IDEO. There he co-founded, a social impact community of over 200,000 people, across 190 countries, that collaborate online to tackle big systemic challenges in our society. Inspired by this experience, he also co-founded OI Engine, an award-winning software platform that helps corporations tackle tough challenges collaboratively, rather than in isolation.

Nathan is an expert in organization design and has led organization design programs facilitated workshops with hundreds of participants that have helped shift the innovation strategy for 250 year old organizations like Generali. He also helped create HackFWD, a tech startup incubator for Europe. He has also led innovation programs for ABInBev, IKEA, T-Mobile, VISA, and Vodafone, amongst others.

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