Article -Innovation & Acceleration

Beyond the Black Turtleneck: Building a Culture of Innovation

- August 10, 2018

When we think of innovation, we tend to conjure up images of people in designer glasses and black turtlenecks standing pensively in front of a whiteboard. As portrayed in TV and movies, only “creative” people are capable of innovating.

This Jony Ive-esque image of innovation is compelling, but the reality is more prosaic. Study after study shows that, in the most innovative companies, this is not the domain of a single department—it is a function of the company culture. Authors and innovators Jeff Dyer and Clayton Christensen describe this as the Innovator’s DNA: the set of norms, behaviors, and practices within a company that enable it to identify, nurture, and ultimately scale up innovations.

At Resonance, we firmly believe that innovation is not something that “others” within the firm do. Rather, it is something that every employee—no matter their role or function—can and should be engaged in. Seen this way, innovation is not the job of a singular individual or team but rather a reflection of company culture and values.

Here are some ways we are building a culture of innovation at Resonance:

  • Company strategy. Our corporate strategy and annual plan highlight innovation as a key priority and objective area. These objectives, in turn, flow down to employees across the firm through Professional Development Plans (PDPs) and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). That which is measured gets done. Therefore, by measuring innovation, we ensure that it is—and remains—a focus within the firm.
  • Idea management. We developed a Resonance Innovation Process for taking in ideas and managing them, from concept through execution. This stage-gated pipeline allows even a small organization, such as Resonance, to manage a portfolio of innovative and award-winning projects.
  • Staff initiative. This September, we will be hosting a company-wide innovation tournament, and the top ideas coming out of that event will be put into our innovation pipeline. We will allocate staff hours and budgets to those ideas so staff have the incentive, resources and, most importantly, the time to develop them.

By taking these simple but significant steps, Resonance is weaving innovation into the core culture of what we do—creating value for clients and establishing lasting social, economic, and environmental impacts in the places we work.

Steve Schmida is the founder and Chief Innovation Officer of Resonance. Working out of the spare bedroom of his home, Steve, working together with Nazgul, bootstrapped Resonance into an award-winning global consulting and advisory firm with more than 70 staff worldwide and offices in Vermont, Washington, DC, Seattle and Manila. Resonance clients include Fortune 500 companies, international donor agencies as well as leading non-profits and foundations.

As Chief Innovation Officer, Steve is responsible for working with Resonance staff, clients and partners on the development of new products and services designed to drive meaningful impact in frontier markets.  His writing has appeared in the Stanford Social Innovation Review,, the Huffington Post and the Moscow Times.

Steve has worked in more than 40 countries across the world. Prior to founding Resonance, Steve lived and worked for 8 years in Russia and Central Asia, where he established programs for the Eurasia Foundation and the National Democratic Institute. Fluent in Russian, he holds an MA from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

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