Culture is the Straw That Stirs the Drink of Innovation: The E&C Pulse - December 4, 2019

December 4, 2019 Ben DiPietro

Dec. 4, 2019

Culture is the Straw That Stirs the Drink of Innovation 


What does a glass of water have to do with corporate culture? Everything, says Safi Bahcall, entrepreneur, business leader, scientist, and author of the best-selling book “Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Change the World.”


Many of the greatest inventions and innovations suffered numerous rejections before they achieved success and changed the world. Bahcall wondered how many great ideas died because they weren’t discovered, or were rejected by people who failed to see their promise, or because people didn’t persevere to overcome cultures of stagnation and self-interest?


Stick a finger in a glass of water and swirl it around, and all of the molecules just slosh around. That’s true until the water’s temperature drops to 32 degrees Fahrenheit, when the water freezes.


“The molecules inside are exactly the same, so how did they know to suddenly change behavior? What we can talk about is how understanding the answer to that question gives us a completely new set of tools for thinking about how to help companies change, how to create new cultures, how to create more innovative cultures, how to create more ethical cultures,” Bahcall said recently during a HOWMatters conversation with LRN Founder and Chair Dov Seidman.


Think of culture as the patterns of behaviors you see, and think of structure as those things underneath the surface that drive those patterns of behavior, said Bahcall. For example, if a company rewards rank, it is going to create a very political culture where people will try to get ahead, and shoot down ideas of others to advance themselves. 


But if an organization rewards intelligent risk-taking, and ideas, and results, it’s likely to create an innovative culture capable of launching loonshots, he said.


“The reason this matters so much is that no amount of singing kumbaya, and encouraging employees to hold hands is going to change culture, just like no amount of yelling at a block of ice, ‘Hey molecules, can you loosen up a little bit?’ is going to melt that block of ice,” said Bahcall. “But a small change in temperature can get the job done.”


Many companies want to encourage more innovative cultures, more ethical cultures, and those are the patterns of behavior, the things you see on the surface. What first needs to happen is drilling down to find the small things you can change that will massively transform those patterns of behavior.


“Once you understand what's going on inside a company, once you understand a transition, once you understand these forces, you can begin to identify those small changes in the structure, which can cause very big changes in patterns of behavior,” said Bahcall.


While everyone knows what a moonshot is--a big goal that society can rally around and support, such as going to the moon was in the 1960s--few realize many of the ideas that have transformed science or business “rarely arrive with blaring trumpets and red carpets, dazzling everybody with their brilliance,” he said.


“They usually are neglected for years, sometimes for decades. They're champions written off as crazy. And since there wasn't a good word in the English language for that, I made one up: loonshots,” said Bahcall.


While President John Kennedy won praise for his call to put a man on the moon, a man named Robert Goddard was ridiculed as crazy 40 years earlier when he suggested how man might travel to the moon using liquid fuel, jet propulsion, and rockets--the means used by the U.S. to land Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in July 1969.


“The moral is, declaring moonshots and big goals is terrific and is nice and can be inspiring, but...nurturing loonshots is even more important,” said Bahcall.



                                                                                                            BEN DIPIETRO




Bruce Karpati, global chief compliance officer for investment firm KKR, shares his philosophy for running and ethics and compliance program with LRN's Dr. Marsha Ershaghi Hames in this latest episode of Principled podcast.





Join LRN's Susan Divers and Paul Hastings' Jonathan Drimmers for a SCCE webcast discussing best practices to maximize the effectiveness of an ethics and compliance program.






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Tensions are rising at Google after four workers were dismissed for what employees say was their workplace activism, CNBC reports.


A new payments system lets people in the Democratic Republic of Congo to pay their taxes directly, bypassing local officials and reducing the chances of having to pay a bribe, Fast Company reports.


Whistleblower Marcy Maslow shares her experiences about coming forward in the latest edition of Corporate Compliance Insights.


Radical Compliance looks at two cases where compliance officers were penalized for doing their jobs.


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Women are leading the effort to improve diversity and inclusion at Gap Inc., Forbes reports. Fast Company offers five tips on how to create a diverse workplace.


Training Magazine looks at ways organizations can accelerate the development of business leaders.



"Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.”

- Ralph Waldo Emerson, poet



Many people have ideas on how they would solve the climate crisis. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and think tank Climate Interactive created a  tool to give people a chance to enact policies and use technology to combat climate change. The goal is to get people to understand the likely consequences of enacting certain energy, economic growth, land use, and other policies.



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