How do you make Innovation into a Habit?

After recently reading the Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg I started thinking about whether innovation can be turned into a habit. In organizations routines are habits. According to Duhigg, there are three things that need to be in place for change of a habit or creation of a new habit:

1)      Trigger

2)      Reward

3)      Craving

Do you have triggers in your organization for innovation? How frequent or regular are they? How about rewards in place for innovation? How can an organization create cravings for innovation and change?

In my daily work if I am looking for inspiration, clarity or thought leadership I go to a Starbucks. The Starbucks coffee is my reward and the smell of the coffee is my trigger and craving. Perhaps part of it too is that the first Starbucks I regularly visited was inside a Chapters book store where I was surrounded by books and was surrounded by a vast amount of knowledge. When I am in this environment my mind goes into creative thinking mode.  For those that are also thinking perhaps the caffeine helps, I have been drinking decaf for a number of years.


In larger organizations these triggers for innovation could be annual meetings/ getaways with a new environment that triggers creativity.  Meetings or presentations with cross functional departments or, most notably, the approach of the imminent demise of a product or organization (a crisis) could trigger innovation. The question is how to make triggers for innovation more regular. For example, in the book of Power of Habit, the idea of putting your workout clothes by your bed the night before triggers you to go for a jog the next morning.

Regular weekly or monthly meetings usually are not great triggers for innovation; where they take place in the same place, same time, with the same people most of the time. There is no reward and these usually end up being yet another meeting to attend and get through.  The question organizations need to ask is how can these regular meetings be changed to trigger innovation?

For triggering there have been a number of practices that I have seen that have worked well. For those in the technology arena seeing what competitors or other leading edge technology companies are doing really helps get technology people’s brain energy working.  At one point I was on a team that had each person present technology companies or trends that they were seeing or hearing about.  The person presenting had full rein on how they wanted to present which made it even more creative.

In the more senior and executive ranks, having vendors showcase their products and services along with visiting their centres of excellence really helps in inspiring and triggering. Getting that inspiration further down the organization can be more challenging.



If there are immediate rewards and you can train teams to expect and crave the reward then you are on your way to creating a lasting habit of innovation.  An example of this is having a clear reward in place for various types of innovation.  Some companies have annual bonuses for meeting or exceeding expectations but this is too late for most employees to associate the reward with the action that got them the reward so that the habit is harder to enforce. To produce the effect of changing or creating a new habit organizations need to identify rewards and provide them right after the desired habit is displayed.


This is the most difficult step in organizations. How can employees get cravings to innovate? Being surrounded by other creative and innovative people certainly helps and if the entire culture of the organization is about innovation.  Interestingly if you select the right habits in the workplace environment to work on changing it will lead to changing the culture within the organization.   If the rewards in an organization are known ahead of time then employees can set personal goals they want to achieve and thereby crave the rewards.

The most difficult part of all of this is in identifying which habit you want to change or create. Some habits have much more impact than others. Once the habit is identified, organizations can figure out what triggers the desired habit to occur or what triggers the undesired habit to occur and then start in on the process of identifying rewards and cravings.