Companies that have rocketed from good to great have innovated time and time again. It’s more than a matter of luck.
Creating a culture of innovation, being open to change and opportunity, and capitalising on new ideas can all act as catalysts for that change to happen. The groundwork needs to be laid and those who don’t take those steps will be left out in an era set to be dominated by an avalanche of disruptive technologies, such as artificial intelligence, gene therapy, drones and self-driving cars.
It must come from the top
A 2014 study by Deloitte revealed that 63% of millennials believe the top barrier to innovation is management attitude. It is crucial that the people at the top of your organisation stress the importance of, and value in, innovation to all employees. The leadership group needs to make it abundantly clear that innovation is something which is to be celebrated and rewarded, and this attitude needs to be maintained.
A strong IP team can play a key part in fostering a culture of innovation by breaking down barriers, giving employees the tools they need to innovate and ensuring innovation is rewarded, as set out in our article on invention capture.
Innovation = core value (ingrain it in your culture)
Making innovation a core value means recognising that all employees, irrespective of their role, have the potential to be innovative in the way that they approach their work. You can stress that innovation is not just the preserve of engineers. Amazon, winner of Fast Company’s World's Most Innovative Companies award in 2017, talks about “innovation at the edge”, moving responsibility for innovation away from a central location and empowering people on the ground. If you are on the front-line selling products, liaising with customers or working through internal processes you can still be innovative.
In her TEDx talk, social researcher Claire Madden explains that while traditional leadership styles are based on linearity, conformity, position and hierarchy, leadership styles that younger generations are responding to are those based on collaboration and contribution, where everyone can participate and have a voice.
Innovation doesn’t just mean ‘technical innovation’; it can be suggesting an improvement to a business process, new ways that the business can engage in CSR or improving employee wellbeing.
Best-selling author and innovation guru Dan Pink uses Australian software company Atlassian as an example. Atlassian run what are known as “FedEx days”, so-called because employees have to “deliver a new idea overnight”. Employees are told to drop their normal work and spend 24 hours on any creative project they can come up with. The policy has not only resulted in new products, but also a ‘mini arcade’ for the office and a MoodApp that allows employees to rate different aspects of the workday. Teaming up with other people from different departments is encouraged and participants can vote for the best ideas at the end. Running events like these for your employees creates excitement around innovation and shows that it is something which is valued by the company.
Google is well-known for its “20 Percent Time” policy. This policy frees up 20% of a Google employee’s time to work on their own projects. Employees know that they are encouraged to give up a significant proportion of their time to be innovative. Irrespective of whether or not Google employees make use of their 20 percent time, it demonstrates to employees the value the management at Google places on innovation.
The 2014 Deloitte study also revealed that “only about half of millennials feel the organization they work for encourages its people to suggest new ways of doing things or rewards them for innovative ideas”. These examples prove that risk-taking in the name of creativity can show significant returns. In Dan Pink’s words: “Traditional notions of management are great if you want compliance; but if you want engagement, self-direction works better.”.
Fail fast to innovate faster
Employees and firms should not fear failure. Even failed innovation is rarely wasted. For example, the Amazon Fire Phone was launched in July 2014. Following poor sales and a $170 million write-down, production ceased in August 2015.
However, part of embracing failure is learning from it. Amazon’s flag-ship products – virtual assistant Alexa and Echo Spot smart display – grew out of the teams and developments used to produce the failed Fire Phone. Similarly, their failed Amazon Auctions platform became the Amazon Marketplace e-commerce platform that now generates more than $1 billion USD of annual sales.
The Innovation Hall of Fame
When new ideas do arise, make sure that those responsible are recognised for their achievement. This incentivises the pursuit of innovation and encourages repeat innovation. This can be achieved in many ways, the simplest of which include financial rewards and public recognition to help promote a sense of pride in being innovative. Seeing the success and recognition that innovation can bring will inspire other employees to innovate.
Lead your cultural revolution
Make changes to your business that ensure you don’t get left behind as we enter the 4th Industrial Revolution. Make sure your business aims to be innovative across the board. Make sure your employees know that they are all innovators. Make sure you celebrate and reward innovation.
Innovation is crucial to secure the future of your business and is essential for growth.