The Human Side of Innovation: Four Hallmarks of Innovation Leaders 

By Brian Miske, KPMG |  July 8, 2024

Every organization says it wants to be more innovative. Some pursue innovation with a focus on adopting the latest technology. Some seek opportunities to finetune existing processes or find more productive ways of working. Others forge partnerships that enable entirely new revenue streams.

Organizations that are consistently innovative know that none of those is the true key to success. They recognize that the best innovations are born from human curiosity and creativity—through the collaboration and synergy of individuals and teams.

Brian Miske, National Leader, KPMG Ignition

At KPMG Ignition, we call this the human side of innovation, and we believe every organization can harness it more fully. As you reflect on the human side of innovation within your own organization, consider how you can better emulate four behaviors of innovation leaders.

1. Embrace a culture of disruption.

Your culture is critical to unleashing the full potential of human ingenuity. People need to know that the organization wants bold disruption of the status quo. This can’t be mere lip service. People need to see recognition and rewards for colleagues who are disruptors and risk takers. They need to know it’s safe to fail. Indeed, failure should be seen in a positive light—as a learning moment that helps you get closer to a goal.

In a large, established organization, it may be challenging to spark that kind of universal culture change. In that case, consider building a formal structure within the enterprise or spin off a separate company dedicated to innovative thinking.

Inspiring innovator: A housing rental start-up

Fostered by a disruptive culture by challenging the traditional hospitality industry and redefining the concept of accommodations, this company transformed the travel and lodging sector by encouraging bold, innovative thinking among employees and embracing creative risk-taking.

2. Find the innovation standouts.

While innovation can and should be the mission of everyone in an organization, some people are more inclined to look and think beyond the proverbial box. These are the rockstars, rebels, and rogues. They’re interesting and interested. And they aren’t afraid to break new ground.

In each department, find the innovation standouts. Bring them together in small, cross-functional teams. Then give them basic guardrails, but for the most part, let them self-govern. If you build more than one of these teams, you can start to propel innovation in phases—with one team laying the groundwork before handing it off to another to make further progress.

Inspiring innovator: Tech industry leader

Known for identifying innovation standouts by bringing together top engineers, designers, and creatives to form special “moonshot” teams. These teams work on groundbreaking and ambitious projects such as self-driving cars.

3. Foster radical transparency.

Be clear about how the organization defines innovation and what success looks like. Don’t say you want to achieve “next-level” growth; announce that you’re aiming for 10% growth.

To forge innovation, empower people to cast off old assumptions and pose challenging questions. In traditional, bureaucratic organizations, dissent may be seen as a liability, and speed may be viewed as a risk. But as you nurture the human side of innovation, both become assets. With your people aligned around your innovation vision and goals, they can begin to test new directions and move much faster while staying in control.  

Inspiring innovator: Leader in the financial information industry

 Known for practicing radical transparency by openly sharing financial information, company strategies, and employee salaries with the public. In doing so, they have established a culture of openness, trust, and authenticity within the organization.

4. Implement deliberate experimentation.

Sometimes innovation initiatives become experimentation by design, with an emphasis on “exploring what’s possible.” That can be interesting and helpful, but it may not make enough impact.

Instead, consider experimentation with intent: Name a target business outcome. Establish a preliminary plan and allocate a short period of time. Then give an individual or team the assignment and let them go to work. See what they’re able to produce when freed from the constraints of status-quo thinking and bureaucratic barriers. Encourage them to push themselves to their breaking point—knowing that you will catch them if they fall.

Tap into the power of human ingenuity

Humans are curious. We’re creative. And when faced with even the most daunting challenges, we’re willing to rise and meet the moment. Human ingenuity is what got us to the moon in the 1960s. It’s what will help us realize the promise of quantum computing in the no-longer-distant future. And it’s what can help your organization break new ground as you meet your mission, power growth, and make a bigger, better impact in business and society.

Start your journey. Reach out today.

Brian Miske serves as the National Ignition Leader at KPMG, where he leads the firm’s strategy to deliver differentiated, innovative client experiences through our KPMG Ignition Centers. A transformational leader and speaker, he has extensive experience helping create market-leading, profitable organizations across global geographies. Brian and his team in the Innovation Lab help clients navigate an increasingly complex and rapidly changing environment by providing insights on signals of change and applying design thinking for business model innovation.

• • •

The information contained herein is of a general nature and is not intended to address the circumstances of any particular individual or entity. Although we endeavor to provide accurate and timely information, there can be no guarantee that such information is accurate as of the date it is received or that it will continue to be accurate in the future. No one should act upon such information without appropriate professional advice after a thorough examination of the particular situation. 

© 2024 KPMG LLP, a Delaware limited liability partnership and a member firm of the KPMG global organization of independent member firms affiliated with KPMG International Limited, a private English company limited by guarantee. All rights reserved. 

Some or all of the services described herein may not be permissible for KPMG audit clients and their affiliates or related entities.

The KPMG name and logo are trademarks used under license by the independent member firms of the KPMG global organization.