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Don’t Get Stuck Without It: Innovation Culture – #TYBspotlight with Andrew Marshall

Founder of Primed Associates: Andrew [Drew] Marshall helps his clients to build innovation-capable cultures and improve the return on their innovation investment. In this #TYBspotlight – I ask him about some the challenges that businesses need to overcome to create a culture of innovation within the organization.

Don’t Get Stuck Without It, Innovation Culture, #TYBspotlight with Andrew MarshallFirst, tell us about yourself and your business?

Primed Associates was born out of the recognition that the highest performing organizations were also some of the organizations that are struggling the most to realize a return on their innovation investments. These firms have usually dedicated, significant resources, time, energy and effort to make their business systems and process as waste-free, error-free, and cost-minimized as possible, all in order to deliver the most products or services at the highest margin possible.

The only problem was, in many cases, they had completely eliminated the things they required to innovate successfully: time, resources, capacity and reward structures to promote the risk-taking and resilience vital to creating breakthrough innovations. Primed Associates came together to respond to the need to transform the culture inside those organizations and to make them more “innovation-capable”.

You “help organizations and their people get unstuck” – why and how do organizations get stuck?

Organizations that are stuck are often victims of their own success. But, “if you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always got.” To create breakthrough innovations, something has to (often quite literally) break. Many organizations get stuck because they don’t recognize that what they say they want and what their performance management systems reward are not aligned. If you keep telling people to take risks, but their year-end evaluation and bonus reflects that they missed their profit target then they will continue to act in their self-interests.

One technology company I know wanted desperately to deliver new innovations to market. They spent a lot of time, energy and effort in generating new ideas only to find them die off very quickly. The key issue they faced was that their culture was a data-driven culture. Every interaction was driven by the two-word phrase, “prove it”. The end result was a culture that used the absence of data to dismiss new ideas.

The issue with a truly new idea is that there is likely little-to-no data to back it up. It’s new, why would there be any!? The end result is a company that maintains rigorous and time-tested performance standards but continuously fails to bring new ideas to market.

How do you “help to get them unstuck”?

First I work with clients to help them recognize the cultural constraints that are currently in place. Do they have an aggressive/defensive culture (common among high performing companies) or a passive/aggressive culture (usually struggling companies), or do you have the beginnings of a truly constructive culture. It is the constructive culture that you want your company to grow into.

Based on that assessment and an understanding of the way the work in the enterprise usually gets accomplished (and it isn’t via the organization chart) we work together to design a series of projects designed to get them moving as quickly as possible to transform their performance and culture into one that is innovation-capable.

This might entail creating a common language for innovation, like design thinking, or it might mean developing an internal community of practice (a cross-organization home for innovation practices). Regardless of the activities involved they will be tied to the unique culture and the available strengths of the enterprise.

What is “innovation culture” and why is it important?

An innovation-capable culture is one that not only emphasizes the attributes of a high performing culture (continuous improvement and operational effectiveness) they also recognize the need to place their customers at the heart of their innovation activities. By driving their innovation to meet specific needs based on observed data, a culture of innovation is promoted.

A strong innovation culture creates an organization that is forward looking, propelled into creating their future and making markets rather than responding to the pressures of the market and then crisis of the day

What is the difference between creativity and innovation?

Creativity is a necessary ingredient of innovation. It drives the spark of new ideas. But it is innovation that makes that idea a reality by testing it, improving it, and building the systems and processes to effectively support it in the marketplace as a commercial reality.

Is fear of failure an obstacle when it comes to innovation?

Yes. If you are unable to take risks then your ideas will suffer from being only achievable with your current resources based on your current thinking. Innovation requires that you reframe failure, not as something to be avoided, but as something to be embraced as a learning opportunity. This problem is so great that I started the “Hooray for Failure!” Podcast to provide a learning resource for my clients who want to reframe failure in their enterprise.

How is it possible to balance everyday tasks with innovation?

Don’t make a distinction. Innovation should become a part of the everyday thinking of the enterprise.

What unique innovation challenges does the smaller business face and how can they be overcome?

SME’s often think that they don’t have the time or resources to be innovative. That is far from the truth. I grew up in my family’s small business in Australia and was surrounded by other small business owners, all of whom demonstrated time and again the practice of innovation. They did it repeatedly and cheaply.

IDEO the innovation and design powerhouse firm based in the Bay Area in California practices the notion of using experiments to improve their innovation ideas over time. Their approach entails creating and running cheap and cheerful experiments to drive their learning. The price per experiment? $10. Yes, I am not missing zeroes. The figure is ten dollars. It’s amazing what you can learn for the cost of breakfast at Starbucks!

What role does technology play in innovation?

Technology is a tool. Use as much or as little of it as you need to get the job done. Sometimes we fall in love with technology but the simplest solutions are often the easiest to implement and sustain over time.

There is a case study about the problem of prescription drugs being mis-dispensed in hospitals. One healthcare group decided to tackle the issue after seeing multiple technological solutions fail to produce the desired outcomes. They applied design thinking and came up with a way to readily identify those nurses moving through a hospital ward dispensing drugs.

The solution: a neon sash made out of the same materials used by cross-guards on their high visibility vests. The end result was greatly reduced mis-dispensed drugs and catastrophic medical outcomes.

You podcast, write articles, blog and use social media – why do you use these channels?

My business demands that I be a thought leader. I choose to share what I know as I see it create a virtuous cycle. My work online helps me find clients, partners, associates and sources of inspiration and expertise. By creating and feeing a network of people through my efforts I have the potential to reap long-term benefits. As my dear friend Elizabeth Marshall (no relation and the creator of Author Teleseminars) keeps telling me, “Build the network you want BEFORE you need it.”

Many thanks to Andrew for doing this interview and providing us with such great insights.

Related: McWilliam Park Hotel Combines Local Service, Value & Online To Become The Best – #TYBspotlight


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Digital expert, top 10% influencer with over 10 years’ senior management experience - including managing projects and teams, and growing companies in the Irish, international and online marketplaces. Co-founded one of the largest B2B blogs in the world, helped grow a B2B social media to over 1,000,000 members, created the strategy for one of the most effective SME Facebook pages in the world and have grown 3 business websites (, & to in excess of a 100,000 unique visitors per month. Have consulted and worked with both corporate and SME clients on leveraging digital to drive business KPIs. Speaker at industry events, have authored several industry reports on the Digital Economy and appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Business Insider and other leading online and offline business publications. Specialities include: Entrepreneurship Business Development, Start-ups, Business Planning, Management, Training, Leadership, Sales Management, Sales, Sales Process, Coaching, Online Advertising, Blogging, Online Marketing, Social Media Marketing, Digital Marketing, Content Marketing, SEO, Social Media Strategist, Digital Strategy, Social Media ROI, User Generated Content, Social Customer Care.

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  • Thanks to Niall and Drew for another great #TYBspotlight. I hadn’t heard (or understood) much about innovation culture before but this article explains it very neatly.

  • Thanks Sian, there are some super insights in there from Drew – lots & lots to learn!

  • This is great information, and many thanks to Drew for his insights. One of the biggest challenges facing ultra-left-brain people within companies, is breaking them out of their ‘coping zone’ and finding their creative comfort zone where they can really get down to innovating. I’d love it of Drew would comment on how he achieves that – and more on those $10 experiments for SMEs!

  • I recently visited a company called Realize in Gothenburg, Sweden. They are creative with a twist! I have to start to listen to Hooray for Failure!” Podcast! 🙂

  • Andrew Marshall

    Thanks for this comment, Lewis. I remembered that you were interested in more on how to help your “ultra-left-brained” compatriots become more engaged in innovation efforts. I have new post on the topic here:
    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on it when you have had a chance to read it.

  • Andrew Marshall

    Thanks for the kind words, Sian.

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