Curiosity Is the Heart of Innovation

by Gordon Krater on November 10, 2014

One of the world’s greatest innovators, Walt Disney, once said: “Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

It’s true — curiosity is the heart of innovation, but how do we encourage curiosity in the workplace? Our 2014 Innovation Report found that culture plays a pivotal role in inspiring innovation, but it doesn’t always translate to success. So, what are the elements of a successful innovation culture, and how do you spark curiosity?

Our survey revealed a group of elite innovators who have seen a 30% or more increase in revenue due to innovation. A common thread among these elite innovators was great cultural practices that promote innovation in the workplace. One of the key cultural elements is something we take very seriously here at Plante Moran: a collaborative work environment with open communication.

Innovation is fed by collaboration. With collaboration, new perspectives and ideas are presented and developed. Open work spaces, collaboration rooms, and an open-door policy are a few examples of a physical work environment, but open communication must be ingrained deeper into an organization’s culture. A nurturing, creative environment starts from the top with leadership support. It’s important to listen to your employees, listen to their ideas, and build a space of trust and openness that allows everyone to feel comfortable and encouraged to come forward with new ideas.

Finally, innovation sometimes comes with its share of risks. In his book Great by Choice, Jim Collins encourages organizations to shoot bullets first, then cannonballs. His point is to make sure the risks we take are calculated ones. We’ve tried a lot of different things over the years at Plante Moran. Some worked; others haven’t. But even the failures sometimes lead to future successes…because we learn from them and enter into the risks with appropriate research and caution.

Innovation is about taking these calculated risks and not being afraid to fail. But without the right cultural mix, the curiosity light can be extinguished. Is your culture a catalyst for innovation?

For more information on this topic, sign up for our Dec. 5 webinar, “Move over, Culture. Make Room for Innovation.” The webinar will feature leaders from Automatic Feed, Henry Ford Health System, and ThoughtWorks—three successfully innovative organizations from Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois—as they discuss innovation and the role of culture.


Back in June, I wrote a short blog about metrics and making sure that we’re measuring the right things—those that can effect positive change versus those that may inadvertently promote undesired behaviors (the law of unintended consequences). We approach awards at Plante Moran similarly. We don’t give out a lot of them, but when we do, we make sure they’re honoring what’s really important at our firm.

Until recently, we had awards for team spirit and suggestion of the year. All are handed out at our annual Firm Conference. In June, however, we introduced a new award: the Bill Hermann Staff Development Award.

Staff development is a critical component of our culture. People succeed at the firm because they learn from those who came before them. We’re very intentional about mentoring and developing staff to be successful both at Plante Moran and out in the community. Our partners and staff are even rewarded for their staff development efforts. It was only natural, then, that we developed an award honoring those who so selflessly give their time and talent to help others succeed.

Anyone who’s ever worked with former Managing Partner Bill Hermann knows that he excels at staff development. He’s been a mentor—formally and informally—and helped develop so many PMers to associate and partner over the years. So what makes him so good at it?

Lots of things. He cares. He’s always impeccably prepared. He’s deliberate in his intent. And he’s creative. He’ll go into what I affectionately call the “Bill Hermann trance” where he just delivers idea after idea after idea—and you don’t interrupt him! You just keep taking notes.

Of course, in a firm as large as ours, Bill isn’t the only best-in-class staff developer we have, hence the award. We don’t have a lot of awards at Plante Moran, but I’m proud to add this one to the bunch. In fact, I’m surprised we didn’t think of it sooner!

What about you? What kinds of awards do you give out at your organization? What are some specific ways you recognize behaviors that are critical to maintaining your values?


Dedicated to Differences

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Recently, I was interviewed by Inside Public Accounting for an article the publication is writing on women in leadership. The discussion touched on a variety of diversity topics, and at one point, the reporter commented on the lack of diversity she sees each year when it comes to partner promotions within the accounting profession. “It’s […]

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Papal Advice: 10 Tips for Becoming a Happier Person

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Over the weekend, I saw an article called “10 Tips for Becoming a Happier Person.” It typically wouldn’t have gotten my attention—there’s a lot of “noise” out there—but this particular list was developed by Pope Francis, so I was curious. As I read it, I found myself nodding in agreement with the tips which included […]

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So You Want to Be a PMer…

September 2, 2014

Over the past year, Plante Moran has received a mind-boggling number of resumes—more than 26,000! As campus recruiting season heats up, I thought I’d take a few minutes and discuss what we look for in Plante Moran staff and how candidates can stand out from the crowd. First, we look for well-rounded people with strong […]

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Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

August 18, 2014

Each year, Plante Moran holds a creativity contest to determine which of our offices came up with the most fun/unique way to raise money or volunteer time for Plante Moran Cares, our firm’s charitable effort.  The winning office receives an additional $5,000 donation to the organization it supports. The winner this year is East Lansing, […]

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Women in Leadership at Plante Moran (Guest Blog Featuring Sue Perlin)

August 4, 2014

While Gordon is on sabbatical, he has invited Sue Perlin, a partner specializing in serving many of the firm’s significant foundation and cultural institution audit clients, to fill in as a guest blogger. Sue is known for her active involvement in the attraction and retention of women leaders at the firm and is currently leading […]

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Plante Moran’s Firm Conference Is Chockfull of “Little Wows” (Guest Blog Featuring Jim Proppe)

July 21, 2014

While Gordon is on sabbatical, he’s invited Jim Proppe, a member of Plante Moran’s six-person management team, to fill in as a guest blogger. In his role as Group Managing Partner, Jim leads client service, growth, and people development for the firm’s industry-focused practice areas. Each year, we invite our 2,000+ staff (the entire firm!) […]

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Four Uninterrupted Weeks Off. At Plante Moran, We Call That a “Sabbatical.”

July 8, 2014

For more than a decade, the firm has had a sabbatical program that requires all partners to take a mandatory four consecutive weeks’ leave every seven years. Although we have a generous paid-time-off policy at the firm, some partners use it more than others; the sabbatical program requires all partners to disconnect completely so that we may […]

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Can Company Culture Hamper Innovation? We’re Surveying Leaders to Find Out!

June 16, 2014

I once read that the most dangerous phrase in business is, “We’ve always done it that way.” And it’s true. Certainly, there’s comfort in routine, but there’s a reason we’re always trying to challenge people to “step outside of their comfort zones”—because if you’re not changing, you’re stagnating. For the past three years, Plante Moran […]

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