Webster’s dictionary defines culture, as it pertains to business, as: The set of shared attitudes, values, goals and practices that characterises an institution or organisation.

There are many elements that go into building a successful organisational culture.  Each successful organisation has different factors that contribute to making its culture successful.  Typically, among these factors, both tradition and innovation play an important role. Traditions help to make a company distinctively who it is, and are instrumental in demonstrating to both employees and the world where it comes from. Without traditions an organisation pays only lip service to culture, and strong traditions that are applied throughout an organisation are one of the best ways to maintain a healthy organisational culture.

Often tradition is depicted as the enemy of innovation and vice versa. However, Ivan Misner, Founder of Business Network International (BNI) has this to say, “These values may at first seem counterintuitive but as the Apple example proves, it is the secret to success for contemporary businesses. Our traditions lay the foundation to who we are by showing where we came from. However, we must always be leading with innovation to stay current. This means that new advancements in technology and thinking must be absorbed into our process. Don’t lose touch with new changes in business and don’t be afraid to try new things at BNI.”

One way in which tradition and innovation are complementary organisational values may be as a result of innovation being a conscious facet of a company’s traditions. When tradition and innovation are at loggerheads within an established organisation, one way to combat any resistance to innovation, or change, is to backtrack to the origins of the organisation. It may be extremely beneficial to reconnect with the breakthrough innovations that in live in the history of the organisation and to share this tradition of innovation with employees and stakeholders.


If you wish to build innovation as a tradition within your organisational culture it is important to clearly define what innovation means for your company. Having a defined strategy with regard to innovation throughout your organisation puts paid to pursuing innovation for innovation’s sake. It may well also save wasted time and investment, preventing the desire to innovate from being a fruitless pursuit; particularly in the event that the goals for innovation within different departments within an organisation are contrary to one another.


Another practical way in which tradition and innovation hold hands is illustrated in an article in The Economist entitled Second wind, which discusses how some traditional businesses are thriving in an age of disruptive innovation. The article states … the more that disruptive innovations like the internet boost the overall productivity of the economy, the more room there will be for old-fashioned industries that focus on quality rather than quantity and heritage rather than novelty. Sometimes the best way forward is backwards.

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