Lessons from Dr. Kirby: Creating a Culture of Innovation

By Morgan Milbradt

On August 4 I had the pleasure of attending an event offered in partnership by the University of West Florida Center for Entrepreneurship, the Studer Community Institute, and the Florida SBDC Network. The focus of this particular seminar was on innovation in the workplace and was led by Dr. Cheryl Kirby, Chief Strategy and Branding Officer for the Florida SBDC Network. Here is a list of five key skills that, according to Dr. Kirby, all leaders and their employees need to help build an innovative culture.

1. Have a Strong Focus on Design

Have you ever bought something based on its appearance, or judged a book by its cover? We all have! For example, we bought the new toothbrush with the extra-long bristles, tongue scraper, and self-cleaning sparkle grip when the regular old free sample you get from the dentist would do. Companies no longer have to compete solely on quality and price. Businesses must also take into account how their product/service looks and feels. Nowadays, customers are placing much more emphasis on these two traits.

Having spent most of my illustrious career in Marketing, I have always strived to maintain the highest quality look, feel and design in everything I work with. My job is to make our product stand out from the competition. However, most business owners are so focused on the bottom line that they forget about this part. Dr. Kirby reminds them that your product or service isn’t enough, you have to have an innovative look and design to really shine in your industry.

TIP: Kirby recommends collecting things that inspire you on a daily basis – whether its scrap booking, Pinterest or screen shots from the internet, save things around you that inspire creative thinking!

2. Be a Curious Explorer

Being present is not just a term about where you are physically located. Being present refers to being in touch with, and noticing everything around you. This will spark innovative thinking and great ideas! Dr. Kirby gives a good example of how you can make your product or service an even better experience for your customers by being present (and curious)!

Her story began with Doug Dietz, designer of MRI and CT machines for GE Healthcare. As he was sitting outside of the MRI room, he noticed a little girl with tears in her eyes. He soon realizes that this frail little girl is actually the patient about to go into his MRI. When her dad bends down to remind her that “she can do this” and sees the tears in her eyes well up even more – innovation sparks! Even though he had worked so hard to create this amazing machine, the experience for a child patient was unpleasant. Based on his explorations, he created a whole new experience driven by the empathy he had for that little girl – and now his MRIs are used in many children’s hospitals around the country!

Tip: Think of Jane Goodall: Study chimpanzees, learn more about chimpanzees. In a business setting: Be around your employees and clients, learn their challenges and successes. And most importantly, take what you’ve learned and incorporate that into your business structure. This will give them a great experience.

3. Be Fearless (and challenge your employees to do the same)

As kids, if we have an idea – we (as Nike says) just do it. And we don’t JUST do it, we do it without caring what people think. We climbed trees, made forts – we simply believed we could, so we did. My mother used to say that I believed I was 8 feet tall and bullet proof!

Think of this: When was the last time you were sitting in a meeting, had a great idea, thought about speaking up, but got nervous about the fear of people disliking your idea – so you decided not to say anything…? Well, innovation in the workplace comes from doing just the opposite – and fostering a culture where, if people do speak up, they won’t be criticized or disciplined.

Tip: Dr. Kirby recommends following your gut! You have to overcome your fear of failing or being judged if you want to come up with great ideas! She also mentioned that after the (great) idea pops into your head, your brain has about 5 seconds of fearlessness [insert speaking up here] before it puts on the breaks for you to back out.

4. Lead and Inspire with Integrity

We all know the traits integrity encompasses: truthfulness, honesty, etc. Leading with integrity is essential to unlocking our potential as leaders, but we also need to remember that it’s something we need to inspire in our employees.

Actually, honesty and integrity are two of the most important things when it comes to leading change. If your people trust you, they’ll follow you wherever you take them. If you jumped off of a bridge, would your employee jump too?

Tip: Remember, integrity is more than just a “display” or words you use to describe yourself. Recognize you ARE the role model for the people you lead and the only way they will follow you is if you walk the walk and not simply talk the talk.

5. Craft a Culture of Innovation

This was one of my favorite lines from Dr. Kirby: “Creativity leads to innovation.”

Think about it: You really can’t produce innovative ideas unless you are surrounded by an environment (including people) that allows you get creative. How many times have you heard the following terms when someone tries to bring up an idea that is outside of the box: “Well, we tried that 10 years ago and it didn’t work,” or “Sorry, but we do it this way here. Always have.”?

Tip: We as leaders need to build an open culture where people feel engaged and empowered enough to suggest changes that will make our organization better. Dr. Kirby reminds us, “Your culture should recognize it’s okay to fail, as long as you’re thinking of ideas!”

Today’s workshop was very beneficial to organizational leaders – especially as the business environment and culture continues to evolve.

Change is hard. As the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” but after today I’d like to challenge that statement. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, but don’t be afraid (and don’t let your employees be afraid) to think of creative new ideas to make it even better! My old laptop isn’t “broke” but I don’t use it anymore because Apple came up with a laptop that doesn’t burn my knees from overheating and doesn’t weigh 30 pounds…

Morgan Milbradt, Landrum HRMorgan Milbradt grew up on a farm in the cornfields of Minnesota, and has called Pensacola, Fla., her home since 2013. She graduated from Minnesota State University in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in mass media along with minors in communication studies and marketing. She served as the Marketing Specialist at BlabTV, and currently serves as the Sales and Social Media Specialist at Landrum HR. Morgan prides herself on her creative marketing brain, eye for design and organizational skills. Her reading interests include employee development, leadership, millennials in the workplace and workplace innovation. She also serves on the Paws on Palafox and Pensacola Eggfest marketing committees. When she’s not slaving away on social media, you can find Morgan at the beach or lounging on the couch with her two most precious possessions: her cats.