Innovation, once a depiction of all that is ground-breaking, modern, and uniquely suited to addressing real-world problems, has become the overused, tired mantra of the business world. Though difficult to spot through the marketing whitewash, true innovation is very much alive today, especially in the high-tech industry. This isn’t only true of scrappy tech startups – there are many large companies that are pushing the boundaries of thought leadership. This innovation blog series will explore the factors that allow large companies to innovate, what steps other companies can take to follow suit, and why innovation, despite its diluted overuse, still matters most in an ever-changing world.
Proctor & Gamble, GE, Google, Apple, Adobe – these are prominent examples of highly successful large corporations that have retained their innovative roots. These companies shake the lethargy, bureaucracy and power struggles that so often plague large organizations and restrain them from true innovation. They have created a corporate culture of innovation by breaking away from old models and aligning their processes to those that create disruptive and continuous change.
Identifying the roots of this entrepreneurial spirit can allow other companies to follow suit, and the key ingredients necessary for successful innovation are culture, people, and a focus on business and market needs. Large organizations have to execute change on multiple planes to innovate, but change can only occur if the mindset and culture of the organization are properly set.
Innovative Companies Foster Intrapreneurial Employees
Companies who foster innovation create a culture for “intrapreneurship” – entrepreneurship encouraged within an organization. Following, a few key steps can bring about a culture of innovation and boost intrapreneurial spirit. It all starts with the drive to explore. A company can have the best designers and project managers in the world, but that kind of talent doesn’t always lead to innovation. Innovative companies hire conquistadors – employees who love to think outside the box and challenge the status quo. These conquistadors bring about change by challenging conventional wisdom and squashing obsolete ideas.
Fear of Failure Morphs to Embracing Failure (Permission to Fail)
Innovation requires patience, willingness to experiment, and, perhaps most importantly, the permission to fail. Most ideas fail to yield great business results. In fact, statistics show that only 10% of tech startups succeed. Successful innovators know that most ideas will not succeed. They keep many irons in the fire in order to build an innovation pipeline and hedge against failure. True innovators are well aware that innovation cannot be cultivated in a culture where management instills a “fear of failure.” Worse, fear of failure leads to a risk-averse culture, which stifles creativity and prevents proactive individuals from exploring new things. Innovation demands that companies permit failure. In essence, truly innovative companies provide employees “a license to fail in exchange for exploring new ideas.”
Command and Control Morphs to Engage and Explore
Companies that operate under a paradigm of command and control require centralized decisions, which leads to micromanagement and paralysis. To use investment funds as an example, a company with a command and control paradigm tracks even the smallest expenditure on product features through complex spreadsheets. This action takes the focus off of solving customer problems and shifts it to small budget issues, forcing management to horse-trade for small dollars. This controlling environment and the resulting frustration leave no room for innovation. It’s especially important to provide flexibility at the grassroots level in order to foster innovation, since these levels are where customer interaction is highest.
Organizations where tight deadlines, long working hours, and the philosophy that people work well under pressure, are part of a culture that doesn’t innovate. Adopting a culture where employees are engaged, trusted, and given the flexibility and control to challenge conventions and barriers, will empower and enable employees to take action, learn, experiment, and explore. The “engage and explore” approach is far more innovation-friendly. If leaders wish to differentiate their company through innovation, they must cede power to their employees. When employees are positively empowered, they think creatively, see solutions more clearly, and are able to take their theories to the next level without the friction created by a command and control environment.