What makes a company culture “innovative?” We tend to think about the upsides of an innovative culture – the free spiritedness, tolerance for risk and failure – without considering where these qualities need to be checked and balanced.

In his acclaimed Harvard Business Review article, “The Hard Truth About Innovative Cultures” (January-February 2019 cover), renowned innovation and strategy expert Gary P. Pisano examines the balance of factors needed to create truly successful innovative cultures. Eye-opening and at times contrarian, the piece offers unique insights into how existing organizations – large and small – can adopt and leverage such behaviors and practices.

Pisano was named the first-ever recipient of the Clayton M. Christensen Prize in May 2020 for the insights he shared in the article and for the overall impact his research and strategies around innovation and growth have had on businesses across the world. The piece was also recognized with the 2019 HBR McKinsey Award for the best article of the year in the Harvard Business Review.

Pisano explains that building an innovative culture takes hard work and isn’t all fun and games. He goes on to show how traits such as tolerance for failure, willingness to experiment, and psychological safety need to be balanced with zero tolerance for incompetence, firm discipline and brutal candidness, if the fruits of innovation are to be yielded.

“The easy-to-like behaviors that get so much attention are only one side of the coin. They must be counterbalanced by some tougher and frankly, less fun behaviors,” wrote Pisano. “Innovative cultures are paradoxical. Unless the tensions created by this paradox are carefully managed, attempts to create an innovative culture will fail.”

Pisano’s award-winning contributions to the study of innovation are detailed in his book “Creative Construction: The DNA of Sustained Innovation” (January 2019), and more recently, in three HBR articles on the lessons of innovation theory and practice for organizations grappling with the COVID-19 crisis:

Whatever an organization’s needs, demands, strengths or weaknesses, Pisano helps decision makers see disruption as an opportunity rather than a danger. Through virtual and in-person keynotes, workshops and advisory meetings, he offers business leaders valuable insights and strategies so they can make meaningful changes in their corporate cultures and innovation processes.