Great innovators are the new rock stars. Steve Jobs was the Mick Jagger of innovation. Like Jobs, sometimes the stars are individuals, like Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington or Phillipe Starck, but more often it is a company, like GM, Square, Intel, Facebook, Google, 3M, or Nike that achieves this status.
Today innovation is more than a nicety; it’s a survival skill. Rapid changes in technology over the last ten years mean that you either innovate or get left in the dust as entire industries undergo major upheavals.
How do you set the stage for innovation and create an environment where new ideas are welcome and the organization is set up to implement them? What is the culture of the companies that win at innovation? Here are seven qualities of the innovative organization.
1. Innovation is stated value and a priority.
There are people, titles and budget assigned to assuring that innovation is part of the culture. One way to do this is to have an innovation team making sure that everyone knows their ideas will be heard and more importantly—management commits to hearing them. I am part of such a team at my company, Lion Brand, a brand that has been on the market for 135 years.
2. Welcoming innovative ideas means making the time to explore them.
Innovative organizations know that if all the time in a day is spent taking care of emails, attending meetings about the status quo and fighting fires there is no time to think about and discuss innovative ideas. It’s not easy to step back from the response-based activities to the more generative process of creating something entirely new. If people are too busy to hear about and consider innovative ideas, they won’t be too busy for long.
3. Innovative companies are aware of the competition but not focused on them.
The danger in focusing on the competition is that you will replicate what’s already been done, simply because you think it’s successful. Innovative ideas arise when you look outside your own industry or connected two ideas from unrelated disciplines to create something completely new.
Nike didn’t look to the designs of Adidas to make a better sneaker. They looked at how a future that connects technology with health and athleticism could create a new product.
4. Innovative companies get comfortable with uncertainty.
They understand that it is not easy to evaluate and budget for innovation. It’s difficult to project the ROI of something that doesn’t already exist, and for which there is little precedent. If you wait until all the possibilities are accounted for, you won’t innovate.
5. Failure must be an option.
If failure is the worst thing that can happen in an organization, then the only path to success is to bet on tried and true, use best practices and repeat history over and over again. Everyone who is considered a successful innovator has stories of the failed attempts that preceded their successes.
Chris Sacca, an investor in Twitter, spent his college loans in the stock market, made $12 million and then lost it all, going $2 million in debt when tech stocks crashed. He hustled his way into becoming an angel investor with a business card and a website and became a success investing in early tech startups. Francis Ford Coppola, creator of Apocalypse Now and the Godfather films, and has had more failures than successes at the box office (fortunately the financial gains of the successes were significantly higher).
6. Great innovators notice things and ask good questions.
The culture in an innovative company is comfortable with people questioning the status quo. Innovation results when you as “why not?” or “what if?” The compliant, rule-following, people are not the innovative rock starts of the future.
Henry Ford asked how he could make cars more affordable using technology. Today a good question for every business is “How can technology help lower the cost of, improve, or market our product?”
7. Great innovators get out a lot.
Sitting at your desk, checking off your to do list, answering emails and filling out budget forms virtually guarantees that you won’t have an innovative idea. Going to a conference, taking a walk around the block, going to lunch with a colleague—just getting out more and exchanging ideas—takes you off the well-worn paths that lead away from new ideas. Avoid the familiar in routine and get out of the online echo chamber.
Step into the world of innovation by immersing yourself at a conference.
I’m a big believe in attending the right conferences to stay up to date on the cutting edge thinking in your industry. But for everyone, attending a conference that inspires them to get on a path to innovation is worthwhile. Because of the burgeoning interest in the topic a number of conferences have sprung up that feature speakers from a wide array of fields including neuroscience, academia, technology and film. These conferences include the Social Innovation Summit, held at Stanford this month, The Innovation Uncensored Conferences run by Fast Company, the 99U Conferences and a conference, for which I am an evangelist, Creativity and Commerce (C2-MTL) Conference in Montreal. C2-MTL happens this May and features speakers including James Cameron (filmmaker), Christian Loubouton (designer) and Tony Hseih (Zappos).
If you’re stuck for ideas, plan the time to step out of your everyday activities and get inspired by the innovation rock stars and the creative people who gather to hear them. I can offer a significant discount off the C2-MTL conference that’s good until December. Feel free to email me if you are interested at Ilana221@gmail.com
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