11/21/2014 12:50 pm ET Updated Jan 21, 2015

How to Create a Culture of Innovation

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Often when I hear people talk about how to develop a culture of innovation, the keys proposed are passion, autonomy, collaboration and trust (PACT). Passion, in particular, has become the darling of hiring managers. If a candidate for employment today hasn't prepared an answer to the question, "What's your passion?" that candidate hasn't fully prepared for the job interview.

While all of these are worthy qualities, more important, I believe, and too often overlooked today, are curiosity and character. To drill down to why, let's look at the definition of innovation, which is "to introduce something new."

Break your PACT. Passion is a prerequisite for many of the activities of business, which are centered on applying knowledge to achieve desired outcomes. But when it comes to creating something new, passion alone - and even in combination with autonomy, collaboration and trust - doesn't take you outside of familiar territory. Curiosity does that.

Like a relentless two-year-old, curiosity asks questions. It opens your mind to new ideas and new playing fields. It prompts you to think not only out of the box, but turns the box into a playhouse, a puppet theatre, a costume or a sled. It explores.

Creativity is largely about making connections between unlike things. Curiosity takes you to see, touch, taste and smell the unlike things, then asks, "What if?"

Character matters. The other "C" that I believe is undervalued in the PACT acronym is character. Rarely does real innovation happen on a first attempt. More often it is the result of failing with your first, second, fifth and even fifteenth formula, prototype or process change, but persistently employing new strategies until something new that really works is produced.

That kind of persistence comes only from character -- the kind of character that sees failure not as an end but as simply another step in a process, one that provides an opportunity to learn more and to narrow down or add possibilities.

I learned the importance of curiosity and character the hard way. After hiring a team of experienced senior managers who came highly recommended, I discovered my company performed better when we hired recent graduates who were hungry to learn all they could about our industry.

Lifelong learners. Where experts, who felt compelled to provide answers, were entrenched and encumbered by their past experiences, our recent graduates came to us with open minds full of questions. We learned to provide them with opportunities and experiences that nurtured curiosity, encouraging them to operate in student mode rather an expert mode.

When we liken innovation, as we often do, to thinking outside the box, we must remember that it is our past experiences that create the box.


Ratanjit S. Sondhe is the founder and CEO of Discoverhelp, Inc., a public speaker and the author of the new book, "How Oneness Changes Everything: Empowering Business Through 9 Universal Laws."