Soren Kaplan, Managing Principal, InnovationPoint LLC

Soren Kaplan, Keynote speakerSoren Kaplan is the bestselling and award winning author of Leapfrogging and The Invisible Advantage, an Affiliated Professor at the Center for Effective Organizations at USC’s Marshall School of Business, a writer for FastCompany and Inc. Magazine, a globally recognized keynote speaker, and the Founder of InnovationPoint and upBOARD. He has been recognized by the Thinkers50 as one of the world’s top thought leaders in business strategy and innovation.  For more information about Soren, visit

What is organizational culture?

Culture is the collection of unwritten rules, norms, and values that influence people’s behavior. When it comes to innovation, especially disruptive innovation, an organization’s culture can be either the rocket fuel or death knell of an organization’s ability to grow and thrive. Because culture is literally invisible, it’s hard to decipher. When a company can create a culture of innovation that continually churns out incremental, sustaining, and disruptive innovations on a sustainable basis, they are essentially creating something that’s unique to them and that competitors can’t copy. It’s an invisible competitive advantage.

Why is innovation culture important?

Many leaders and organizations have finally recognized that real innovation and business growth don’t result from just creating finely tuned processes, two-by-two matrices, or rigid business-planning templates. Products, services, and entire business models become outdated overnight. Products get copied.  Technologies get reversed engineered. Competitive advantage can disappear in an instant. The only way around this is to continually innovate, and the only way to do that on a sustainable basis is to create a culture of innovation.

You state that everyone is looking for disruptive innovation…and that’s the problem? What’s wrong with wanting to be disruptive?

Although disruptive innovation is important, it isn’t the only type of innovation that’s necessary to survive, thrive, and win in today’s rapidly changing world. Other types of innovation like incremental changes and sustaining innovations are equally essential. And you need everyone doing them.The problem is that most companies either go for only the big bets or get stuck with a single-minded focus on the small stuff. If we only swing for the fences, we’ll miss the opportunity to score on singles, doubles, or triples as well. And if we only go for the singles, we’ll never win the Home Run Derby. The challenge is that we need a balanced approach, one that’s focused on all types of innovation. The only way to get all types all the time is through creating a culture of innovation.

What is the biggest determinant of culture?

Most corporate visions and missions sound alarmingly alike: Become the number one provider of blah, blah, blah. These generic, broad-based goals might rev up sales teams, but they do little to spark ingenuity.  The goal is to frame the way you want to change the world and make it about the customer. And then once you do that, you get everyone innovating to that end, no matter what role or what function.

What are simple ways to get started?

Carving out time for innovation doesn’t have to mean radically remaking the corporate time clock. Simply setting aside twenty minutes in a weekly meeting to explore “new ideas for making things better” can be enough to start a cultural shift in many organizations. The goal is to provide mindshare focused on new ideas to improve things for internal or external customers and do that continuously. Of course, if you’re going after a big disruption that’s going to require a dedicated effort, but if you want a culture where everyone’s focused on value creation, setting aside time for innovation can move the culture needle in the right direction.

What can leaders do?

Leadership communicates what’s important and valued in the organization each and every day. Actions become the symbols that transmit values and that, in turn, shape culture. Everything a leader does or says is a symbol of what is good, bad, desired, or undesirable behavior in the organization. So, leaders need to be particularly attuned to what they do and how they do it, whether consciously or unconsciously.

Without awareness of what’s being communicated—explicitly and implicitly—values can be reinforced that can either promote or inhibit trust and innovation.

What are some of the most leading edge examples of how to create a culture of innovation?

One of my favorite examples from my new book is Zipcar.  They bring customers into the office on the weekends for innovation jams.  Adobe gives employees an innovation toolkit that contains a $1000 gift card to spend on Google ads that have links that go nowhere so they can measure traffic to non-existent products as part of their innovation process. And NBCUniversal uses their leadership development program as a real live incubator for new business models that have the potential to transform the media and entertainment industry. There are numerous never-before-seen examples that highlight the principles and practices of how anyone can start to create their Invisible Advantage in my new book.


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