Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to present How to Create a Culture of Innovation in 3 Key Steps to almost 100 of West Michigan’s finest leaders, innovators, and change champions. Every one of us should be interested in learning how to help our organizations continue to move forward, especially during a time in our history where it has been even more challenging. What is interesting is that innovation means something different at every organization. For Dick Haworth (Haworth Furniture), his approach is “Go make everything better!”. At DISHER, our mission is to always “Make a Positive Difference”. I think Mr. Haworth nailed it! No matter where you work, innovation should always be about improving products, lives, and creating ripples of positive change. Keep making them better. Stay ahead of the growth curve before your current products start to mature and decline.

Even with the pandemic and live-in home offices, meaningful innovation is still possible through access to new tools and approaches that anyone can learn. Here are the three key steps and a few new tools I shared during my virtual presentation.

1. Create a Community of Creative Collaborators

2. Adopt Simple Processes and Tools

3. Unleash Your Innovation Ninjas



1. Create a Community of Creative Collaborators
The DISHER team has been facilitating innovation for companies in West Michigan for 20 years. We even have a dedicated workshop room in our office with curated processes and trained facilitators specifically used for walking organizations through what we call Whiteboard Workshops. We’re now facilitating online Whiteboard Workshops all centered around the idea that “innovation can be for everyone, from anywhere”. These online co-labs are built to engage a team and get them excited about the possibilities of innovation even from behind a computer screen from home or the office. It’s not easy work, but it’s worth it!

For any innovation process to be successful, you need multiple perspectives, active engagement, and cooperation from everyone in your organization. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple talks about collaboration as “the secret sauce of innovation”, saying that “he has never met anyone that could do something that incredible (magical) all by themselves”. It takes more than a village. The entire organization must get involved to create sustainable innovation.

This is where your new collaborative community comes in! Does your team have issues you think need to be ironed out when it comes to the next step in your product-development process? Do you need a new process to make progress—but you can’t figure it out? Consider inviting a cross-functional team of designers, engineers, testers, customers, contractors, or even board members or volunteers to a facilitated session around how you can better innovate together. Brainstorm pain points or areas of unmet user needs while encouraging everyone to participate. Appreciate many different perspectives and share those ideas and thoughts with the whole group. Empathy is an incredibly important part of the innovation process! Understand your users.


A culture of Innovation: A couple of DISHER engineers participating in a whiteboard session.

A couple of DISHER engineers participating in a whiteboard session.


2. Adopt Simple Processes and Tools

Innovation can feel daunting. But now that you have your community of creative collaborators selected and ready to go, you need a process that’s easy to follow and gets people excited. Many years ago, DISHER created a process built on a foundation of human-centered design that fits into a one-hour time window and keeps everyone focused and engaged throughout the entire workshop.

Our Whiteboard Process has five steps: Preview, Play, Problem, Possibilities, and Pick.


A culture of innovation: whiteboard process graphic

The DISHER Whiteboard Process


Trained DISHER facilitators begin by aligning on a well-defined problem statement with organizations prior to the workshop. The problem statement is then shared with your chosen collaborative community. When the workshop begins, you’ll start by previewing expectations, playing a game to get the creative thoughts flowing, and then diving right into the problem statement by exploring a wide variety of possibilities through visual sketching.

An industrial designer talks the importance of a culture of innovation

Before COVID, we held all innovation sessions in our Whiteboard Room.



Since COVID-19 began, we knew innovation couldn’t wait just because quarantine had started. Alongside many types of organizations and associations, we now utilize an online tool called MURAL® to bring our in-person workshop experience to life on screen. We just might have to be a little more creative now when designing awesome games to play before we jump into brainstorming. This tool allows participants to contribute digital post-it notes, images, sketches, examples and even do virtual voting.


Mural Board Example

An example of a customer innovation session using Mural.


Many teams leave the workshops with dozens of ideas to vet through the lens of user desirability, commercial viability, and production feasibility. We then help them use those top ranked ideas to create real, makeable products. This process also works for services and even business processes. You will be amazed at the results you can achieve in just one hour of focused ideation with a tried-and-true process.


Vetting Venn Diagram

DISHER uses three points of ranking to determine the best ideas: User desirability, Commercial viability, and Production Feasibility.


3. Unleash your Innovation Ninjas!
To truly have a culture of innovation, you need to have the mindset of a Ninja. Gary Shapiro, President of the CTA and the Consumer Electronics Show, recently wrote two books about the importance of creating a culture of Ninjas: Ninja Innovation and Ninja Future.


Gary Shapiro, Author and culture of innovation champion

Gary Shapiro (right), with his two books, Ninja Innovation and Ninja Future.


Shapiro even says that companies need to “Innovate or Die”. That’s reality. The good news is that your organization is full of Ninjas, ready to be armed to discover the next best idea. They just need to get in the right mindset. Here’s what we think it takes to build a team of innovation Ninjas!

1. DISCIPLINE. Ninjas train hard and possess great discipline. Great innovation takes disciplined practice! Follow the process and be passionate about it.

2. CONFIDENCE & FLEXIBILITY. Ninjas act with confidence. They are strategic and adaptable. To truly innovate well—you need to move together in unison, working confidently under your vetted ideas, while rolling with any punches that come your way. Your user feedback didn’t go well? Pivot and keep moving! There’s no time to dwell on the what when you need to get back to the why – improving the lives of your users.

3. SPEED. Ninjas move with incredible speed and use the act of surprise. You need to move fast in innovation. Otherwise, your ideas may be obsolete or brought to market by a competitor before you even put a plan together.

4. PERSEVERANCE. Ninjas survive battles against all odds. Innovation takes tenacity and the will to fail fast, again and again.

 With a good team of trained Innovation Ninjas, failing fast becomes possible because you have built a great team to lean on. Trust your team to guide the innovation process, ask the hard questions, and support the facts if any roadblocks come your way.

A culture of innovation creates many positive ripples for organizations such as increasing financial returns, a more engaged workforce, and an overall better customer experience. With these three essential tips, you can jump into changing your culture into one that embraces innovation. And the DISHER team is ready to lead you into your next battle! Contact us today to get your Virtual Innovation Workshop scheduled. It’s free! Innovation can’t wait!


Related Article: Be the Speediest to Market with Open Innovation (OI)