#6: Cultivating a Culture of Innovation: 8 Underrated Traits from Productive Academic Departments

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Taking risks to innovate

Academic departments and their faculty are assumed to be innovative.

In an environment where students are constantly learning and research activity is externally funded, innovation is expected.

Such an environment actively seeks out change to develop and incubate the next set of new ideas.

For many Faculty though, the culture of innovation is less evident.

Burdened by teaching and administration, and the constant need to ‘deliver’ against external measures of performance, the pursuit of innovation can seem elusive.

Traditional wisdom usually paints a picture of Faculty who can blend their academic prowess with technical expertise, to become innovation machines.

While it can be difficult to visualise how Faculty can transform themselves to become productive innovators, there are a number of traits that innovative academic departments tend to demonstrate.

Here are 8 of the qualities that can inspire Faculty to re-think how they innovate by transforming their own outlook.

1. Embracing Diversity of Thought

One of the most underrated traits in academic settings is the ability to embrace diversity of thought.

Innovation flourishes when individuals from different backgrounds, disciplines, and perspectives come together to collaborate.

Encouraging interdisciplinary interactions and valuing the unique insights each person brings to the table can spark creativity and drive innovation.

Academic departments are notoriously siloed in many institutions.

Innovative Faculty ignore the politics, actively seek diversity and secure success.

That’s how they foster innovative thinking.

2. Cultivating a Growth Mindset

A growth mindset is the belief that intelligence and abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work.

In academic environments, where the pursuit of knowledge is fundamental, there are countless examples of Faculty working hard and being dedicated to their teaching and research.

But, hard work in itself is not enough.

Faculty with a growth mindset are more likely to embrace challenges, persevere in the face of setbacks, and view failure as an opportunity for learning and improvement.

A culture that encourages a growth mindset can create an atmosphere where experimentation and exploration are celebrated, driving innovation forward.

This is a shared responsibility for Faculty and their leadership.

It will require norms, traditions and “the way we do things around here” to be challenged.

3. Encouraging Risk-Taking and Tolerance for Failure

Innovation is often born out of experimentation and risk-taking.

However, fear of failure can be a significant impediment to taking risks.

Academic departments that foster a culture of innovation must also cultivate a tolerance for failure.

This involves acknowledging that not every idea will succeed, but that the process of exploring new possibilities is invaluable.

Encouraging calculated risks, learning from failures, and adapting strategies can lead to breakthroughs that redefine the boundaries of academic knowledge.

4. Effective Communication Skills

Innovation at scale is not a solitary endeavour.

It requires effective communication and collaboration.

Underrated in academic settings, effective communication skills are essential for translating complex ideas into accessible language, fostering collaboration, and disseminating innovative findings. 

Academic departments should prioritise the development of communication skills, ensuring that Faculty can convey their ideas not only to their peers but also to a broader audience, including students, policymakers, and the public.

And the best way to do this?

Teach your research.

5. Be Agile

The academic landscape is constantly evolving, with new technologies, methodologies, and paradigms emerging regularly.

An underrated trait for fostering innovation is agility.

Departments that can quickly adapt to changes in the academic environment, whether technological, cultural, or pedagogical, are better positioned to seize emerging opportunities and stay at the forefront of their respective fields.

This adaptability requires a willingness to embrace change, a forward-looking mindset, and the ability to navigate uncertainty with confidence.

6. Promoting a Collaborative Environment

In successful departments it is the collaborative spirit that is a catalyst for groundbreaking innovation.

Creating a culture that values and promotes collaboration is an underrated but crucial trait in academic departments.

Collaborative environments foster the exchange of ideas, provide diverse perspectives, and allow for the pooling of resources and expertise.

Whether through interdisciplinary research teams, joint projects, or cross-departmental initiatives, academic institutions can harness the power of collaboration to drive innovation forward.

7. Time Management and Efficient Workflow

Innovation requires time and effort, but an often overlooked aspect is the importance of effective time management and workflow efficiency.

Academic departments benefit from adopting strategies that optimise the use of time, minimise bureaucratic hurdles, and streamline processes.

How can you use technology to improve your quality assurance processes?

How can you accelerate the development of research-inspired curricula?

How can you maximise the quality of discussions in meetings?

Being successful at innovation requires departments to focus on getting the boring obligations under control.

By creating an environment where Faculty can focus on their core work without being bogged down by administrative complexities, academic departments can enhance productivity and create the conditions for innovative breakthroughs.

8. Nurturing Supportive Leadership

Leadership within academic departments plays a crucial role in shaping the culture of innovation. 

The majority of Faculty prefer to be led rather than managed.

Supportive leadership that values and encourages the pursuit of innovative ideas is often underrated.

Leaders who provide mentorship, create opportunities for professional development, and champion a culture of openness and inclusivity can inspire Faculty to push boundaries and explore novel avenues.

And it’s not just the Faculty leadership that can lead.

By fostering a positive and empowering leadership environment, Faculty can share the load by coaching and mentoring academic colleagues to perform at their best.


Departments that continuously innovate exhibit the confidence to take risks.

Environments that foster innovation embrace diversity, cultivate growth-oriented thinking, communicate effectively, promote collaboration, demonstrate agility, focus on efficiencies and embed supportive leadership behaviours.

So, what risks are you going to enable today?