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Wonder and Rigor: The Challenge of Increasing Innovation Capabilities

Written by: on January 12, 2021

Culture eats strategy for breakfast (so the oft-used adage goes). In my personal research, Cru’s field staff unanimously point to culture as an impediment for innovating within their ministry. When asked how to make these changes, many shake their heads, throw up their arms, sigh, and relent, “I don’t know. Culture change is hard and slow.” How might we dissect, analyze, and diagnose the innovative culture of an organization while also giving a reliable prognosis? I turn to two developmental psychologists for help.

As a dynamic pair with a 30-year-long working relationship, Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey have devoted their career to fostering Deliberately Developmental Organizations (DDOs). Their formal education in the 1970s only focused on the development of infants, children, and adolescents. Like the body (usually) stops growing in late teens, so mental development was assumed to come to a screeching halt. They challenged this assumption with a focus on adult development.

Their work is a welcomed voice in the world of innovation theory. In a podcast interview investigating entrepreneurship and innovation, Kegan asserts that the emphasis of DDOs undergirds many of the mindsets associated with innovation like failing frequently, failing fast, and failing forward (Glaveski).

While Kegan and Lahey describe a certain type of culture, I’m using their text, An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization, as a framework for culture diagnosis and culture change. Culture is both organic and organized, so it is possible to have a strategic approach to culture (Kegan and Lahey, 6). Culture is the water in which an organization swims, and it is impacted by many facets. It is also “more than the sum of its parts” (117). Culture is challenging to dissect. Employees at one DDO didn’t notice or even accept the false dichotomy between “usual business” and development. In other words, there is “no difference between developing themselves and getting their work done” (261). As I consider the many different elements that combine to form a culture, I include the following:

– Who is hired and for what reason?

– What jokes are told?

– Human Resource policies (number of days off, what days off)

– What stories are celebrated?

– How money is spent?

– Who is fired and for what reason?

– What behavior is corrected?

– What behavior is applauded?

– What stakeholders are told?

– How offices are laid out?

– Rituals around meetings

– How communication is distributed?

– Who gets promoted and for what reason?

– Ambiance of the office

– What outside-the-meeting comments are tolerated?

– How strict start times and end times are?

– What happens when someone fails?

– What communication is like up and down the ladder?

– How candor is valued?

– What is measured?

What would you add to this far-from-exhaustive list? Which are the most important? I will suggest three that have a greater impact on the others:

1) The stories that are celebrated

2) The behavior that is corrected and applauded

3) The metrics that are consistently measured

In agreement with Kegan and Lahey, pointed feedback about specific behavior (both positively and negatively) might be the single greatest indicator of culture (156-157). If teammates are not asked to behave differently and held accountable for those, how can one expect anything different? I believe these three elements of culture have the biggest return on that behavior change.

Increasing the innovation capabilities of an organization is more than an open office floor plan, an abundance of Post-It notes, and motivational framed quotes. It involves the wonder of what could be and the rigor of long, slow culture change. Wonder and rigor. The left and right feet of the innovative leader.

Wonder.

Rigor.

Wonder.

Rigor.

Wonder.

Rigor.

—-

Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization (Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2016).

Steve Glaveski, “Episode 46: Building an Everyone Culture with Robert Kegan,” Future Squared, (accessed January 12, 20121) https://futuresquared.libsyn.com/episode-46-building-an-everyone-culture-with-robert-kegan.

About the Author

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Shawn Cramer

9 responses to “Wonder and Rigor: The Challenge of Increasing Innovation Capabilities”

  1. mm Jer Swigart says:

    I appreciate your highlighting wonder and rigor…and the rhythmic repetitiveness….almost like footsteps or, perhaps, heartbeats.

    Thinking about this through the lenses of your organization, does the heartbeat have to start at the top, or could it start at the bottom and gradually overtake the organism?

    • mm Shawn Cramer says:

      I take a “both-and” approach to most change. Most disruptive ideas happen on the fringe, but they must be eventually supported from the top, or the movement will die. It takes incredible humility for “the top” to say, “Our best ideas will happen in unlikely places, and not in this room.”

  2. mm Dylan Branson says:

    Shawn, I dig the list you pointed out. Maybe it’s implicit as a negative, but I would also add that in addition to the stories that are celebrated, it’s also the stories that serve as warnings to other people. I think there’s always a story of “This one time, so and so did x and y and that really went against our goal.” But maybe a deeper examination would show these stories that serve as warnings may be those that were people who stepped beyond their bounds in a positive way, but fell short or upset the status quo of the organization. …or it could be that it genuinely was a horrendous moment in the organization that’s used to serve as a corrector (leaning into number two).

    Before I started working in Hong Kong, one of my current colleagues pulled me aside to give me the lay of the land. (who I should trust, who I should be wary about, what I should and shouldn’t do if I was going to survive, etc.). This established the narrative of the office to me as “Keep your head down and mind your business. Anything you say/do can and will be used against you.”

  3. mm Darcy Hansen says:

    Shawn,
    I appreciate your thoughtful questions for discovering culture within an organization. Have you asked these questions within Cru, and if so, how are those questions received? I keep wondering how organizations that have longstanding traditions and culture can shift toward a DDO? It seems to me that for a DDO to emerge, it is best done in the early stages of development, before a generation of culture is established. How do you envision innovation impacting change within such organizations?

    • mm Shawn Cramer says:

      Darcy, I’m trusting that our innovation dept. can be a place of freshness – fresh thinking, fresh postures, fresh ways of ministering. I’ve been returning to the word “inspire” recently which means “to give breath” which is life. Recently after an internal seminar a staff member said, “It’s great to have someone asking ‘what if?’ if our organization.” I treasured that compliment.

  4. mm Greg Reich says:

    Shawn,
    Great blog! I would add two over all things that I believe are key to an organizations culture; vision and values. Looking at your list many of them can fall within these two categories. As I read the book I found myself wondering how Collins book “Good to Great” would line up with a DDO culture. Since the authors clearly state that there is no perfect formula for creating a DDO culture what are the current aspects of Cru’s culture that are positive and compatible to the DDO mindset? Which ones aren’t? The authors are also very clear the book is beneficial for all but is focused on those leaders with the power to make the changes needed. (234) They also give advice for those who want to approach it from the grassroots level. How can you cast a vision for this type of need for change at Cru at your level?

  5. mm John McLarty says:

    Good stuff here. You got me thinking about how we are the stories we tell. When it comes to creating culture, the stories do as much (and maybe more) to shape the future as they do to describe the past. I’ve found it critical to make sure the stories I tell help move us forward, even if they are from other eras and focused on other situations. We focus more on the learning and growth opportunities in front of us, not just celebrating an accomplishment, a mistake, or a person who came before us.

  6. mm Chris Pollock says:

    Shawn! Thankful for you and your innovative thinking 🙂

    Appreciate the connection you make between the DDO and the innovation approach. The idea, in particular of ‘failing forward’ stands out. This is a ‘hydra’ approach to failure, becoming stronger for the breaking. Failing forward (Glavelski), this mindset would you determine as a marker of ‘self-transforming’?

    Strategy, strategising…these, as I get older and older in organised community, I’m becoming more and more leery of. I do appreciate ‘listening’ and ‘imagining’ and being somewhat responsive to these with regards to mindful action. Organisational strategising, how do you perceive this with and without ‘skin in the game’?

    I wanted to touch base on metrics too! Thinking about the scoreboards I grew up with. Wondering about innovative new ways of perceiving metrics? How can we encourage big picture perspectives, growth and development, without numbers and ‘winning’ and ‘losing’?

    I think the DDOs are onto something. I do appreciate their caring thoughtfulness toward people in their communities as being people!

    God bless you, eh! It was awesome to see you in the Zoom meeting last week.

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