While the past was defined by large, established companies using proven systems again and again in reliable ways, technological acceleration and black swan events like Covid-19 have changed the world of business. To be a leader in this new landscape, companies must build flexible teams who can adapt, who can see or create opportunities faster than their competitors. In this new age, companies like Google and Pixar influence management and HR professionals everywhere by creating successful, innovative cultures — but even so, these successful examples often seem like the result of some interpersonal magic that can’t be recreated.
Without a doubt, creating an innovative culture of one’s own is a challenge. Plenty of companies know they need to be more innovative, but there seems to be no “innovation playbook” or set of innovation training tools to help teams transform and achieve their goals. Companies new and old are facing a situation where they need to “speak a new language” to adapt to a more volatile and faster-paced world. Fortunately, the answer to this issue is surprisingly simple: Language learning programs like those offered by Babbel for Business are the very “innovation playbook” every company is looking for.
The paradoxes of innovation — and why they perfectly mirror language acquisition
Companies looking to create their own innovative cultures often don’t know where to start, but the good news is there’s nothing “magical” about innovation training. Even so, it requires managers and HR leaders to adopt strategies and programs that train their teams to think more creatively. Rather than make these changes in the abstract, a perfect place to begin is by having your teams acquire a new language.
As Gary P. Pisano explained in the Harvard Business Review and his book Creative Construction, the most innovative business cultures balance many contradictions. Upon examining his principles, language learning emerges as a perfect meta-learning to develop organizational traits that lead to innovative cultures. By implementing strategies that embody these three paradoxical principles, companies create their own “innovation playbook” to take their teams into a new age:
1. Psychological safety with radical honesty
As research has shown, the highest-performing teams also have the highest levels of psychological safety. The paradox of this, however, is that there’s often a misconception that to feel “safe,” team members can’t be direct with one another or tell each other the full truth. By creating a sense of psychological safety combined with vulnerability and a policy of radical honesty, your team will become more innovative — and team language learning is a perfect way to practice.
To succeed in a language learning program requires taking frequent risks and making many mistakes. For the best results, it also requires practicing with other speakers and being corrected on errors in an honest but productive way. By having your teams learn languages together and encouraging both risk-taking and polite but direct feedback on mistakes, team cohesion will rise and confidence will increase, as Babbel’s own research and case studies have shown. As your teams learn their new language, they also learn that taking risks and getting feedback are positive and lead to better outcomes — a communication style that is invaluable to boosting innovation.
2. Highly disciplined experimentation
When many companies think of “experimentation,” the fear is that money and resources will be wasted on strategies or products that end up being a dead end. Even so, innovative cultures are consistently experimental — but they are also highly disciplined about their experimentation. To understand this principle, language learning again offers a perfect example.
Achieving mastery in a language requires more than learning a fixed set of phrases or words — it means free experimentation with novel sentence structures and texts in many contexts. Even so, it also means adhering to the principles innate to a given language and taking a focused approach to applying them in new ways (in other words, you don’t get to make up your own grammar rules).
For companies adopting language learning programs, consider adding incentives when team members find creative ways to say “stock” phrases, or experiment with how language learning can be worked into your company’s normal routines. These strategies encourage creativity at an individual and organizational level, both vital to innovative cultures.
3. Highly individual collaboration
As many business leaders know all too well, managing high-achieving teams also means managing many different egos. To get the most out of individuals who are the best at what they do, they have to be able to express themselves fully. At the same time, putting too much emphasis on one person over the team can set back the company’s goals. Once again, language learning offers lessons here.
To master a new language, you must immerse yourself in a group setting with other speakers (and of course, language itself evolves as a result of group activities over time). On the other hand, being around a group of fluent speakers of a language isn’t enough to master it yourself — the individual must drive their own learning and fully participate. When applying this to a language learning program, it’s important for team leaders to value both each individual’s fluency and their fluency as a group. If your teams can find the balance with a new language, those habits will spill over into problem-solving and innovation as well.
Why language learning and innovation are the safest strategies in an accelerating world
It’s clear that we are now in the “innovation age,” where old standard-bearers and gatekeepers can be unseated seemingly overnight. These uniquely volatile times require increasingly innovative and anti-fragile companies to survive them, and even “unicorn” tech start ups aren’t guaranteed to survive that disruption. Innovation problems require innovative solutions, which is why language learning is more vital than ever.
Aside from streamlining your company’s processes, improving interdepartmental communication, and opening the door to new markets, the language learning solutions from Babbel for Business also offer an opportunity to enrich employees’ lives and transform their values. To face an increasingly fast-paced, multilingual, and international business world, companies need a playbook for innovation to find their opportunities. Through language learning, even “old” companies can transform into new ones ready for the challenges of 2021 and beyond.