Price Waterhouse Coopers, IBM, and an assortment of other high profile companies have conducted executive surveys over the past few years and all have come to the same conclusion - innovation is a top priorities for companies. However, The Innovation Company is not so sure companies really want innovation based on what it takes to become that type of organization.
What companies really want are the RESULTS from being innovative. It is like someone who makes a New Year's resolution. On January 1 there is commitment and focus. Then the work begins and poof, the resolutions evaporate.
The ironic thing is that the work related to becoming innovative is actually easier than losing weight, running a road race, or saving or making more money. Why do we say this? Check out what we call Our Disclaimer by clicking here.
What do you think?
In keeping with our theme that innovation is EASY, The Innovation Company has created a simple tool that uses only two questions to measure the level of innovation within a team or company. Yes, only two questions that take about a minute to answer. Click here to learn more.
We are looking for five companies or teams to help us validate our model by having groups take the survey. We will handle all of the logistics and there are no fees for this effort. The goal is to simply get feedback, test our assumptions, and begin creating a database of responses.
In exchange for the team or company's time we will provide a free innovation workshop/key note or up to 25 FREE Innovation Company T-shirts.
If you or someone you know would be interested in this offer please let us know by clicking here.
The survey focuses on two main components of innovation - risk and failure. It is not simply enough to ask someone to take risks. They need to feel SAFE to do so. That is what we measure and look to improve.
Two questions. Two minutes. Free t-shirts. Easy.
There are a few companies that come to mind when the word innovation is mentioned. Apple. Google. Amazon. I would argue, however, that Jimmy Fallon and the Tonight Show staff are more innovative than all of them combined.
Think about it. Four or five nights a week Fallon and his team have to crank out jokes that not only make people laugh, but have to be different than the ones that competitors are going to be generating THE SAME DAY. Plus, in the age of YouTube and viral videos, they also need to create sketches or games that make will be shared by thousands if not millions of people. Day after day, and week after week a small team works to entertain millions.
Another thing that makes Fallon and his team so much more innovative is the amount of failure and risk they are willing to take. They are willing to fall flat on their faces in front of millions of views, get panned by critics, and try new and crazy ideas EVERY DAY. And, if the ideas don't work or the feedback is bad, they get up, brush themselves off, and say, "Oh, well. Let's try again tomorrow." There's a lesson in that.
So, maybe it is time to put down those case studies on Amazon and start watching more TV. Maybe TV is good for you after all!
My family and I recently took a trip through the Southeastern part of the United States and made a visit to a NASA facility/museum in Huntsville, Alabama. We took a tour and the guide was putting a strong emphasis on NASA's plans to travel to Mars. During a break I privately asked him, "What about Elon Musk and his plans to travel to Mars?" "That's a problem," he replied.
That's when it hit me. What if Elon Musk started doing the work that I was doing? Or how about Amazon or Google? What would happen? Am I ready for that? Think for a moment how only years ago NASA had a monopoly on space travel in the United States and yet now finds itself watching as others plan to travel into space AND make a profit doing so.
The lesson here is that in the world we live in we all need to be ready - no matter what space we play in - for a disruptive change present itself almost without warning. The only way to be ready for such a moment is to constantly be challenging assumptions, questioning conventional thinking, and working to constantly introduce innovative ideas and solutions.
The Elon Musk's, Google's, and Amazon's of this generation are coming to your industry. It is not a question of if, but, rather of when. Will you be ready or will it "be a problem?"
Imagine I had all the CEO's of all the Fortune 500 companies in a room and I asked, "who wants their company to be innovative?" I am guessing about 500 hands would go up.
Now imagine if, instead, I asked the following question. "Who wants to have an upset stomach?" I am thinking most hands would stay down. Thus, we have a problem with sincerely wanting an innovative company since upset stomachs are required.
What do I mean by this? Seth Godin, a true leader in business and marketing, once said, "If you're not upsetting anyone, you're not changing the status quo." Being upset, whether that is referring to someone's temperament or his or her stomach, is an excellent indicator of just how far an individual or a company is pushing the limits of creativity and innovation.
Ask yourself this question. What has our company, team, or organization done in the past year that truly upset someone or some other group? Not because of an error or faulty work, but because you broke with conventional thinking and tried something new, radical, or game changing. How about the last six months? How about the last month? How about today?
Maybe it is time to think more about these questions. Also, if you don't take Pepto-Bismol to calm your stomach because of innovative thinking inside your company, think how much you will need when your competitors from outside your organization cause you to reach for the pink stuff.
The good news? It now comes in Instacool Peppermint. How's that for innovation!
The 1988 movie, Bull Durham, summarized baseball in the following eighteen words: "This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball.” Simple. Leonardo da Vinci wrote that, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Steve Jobs, a name synonymous with innovation, had a passion for innovation and for simplicity. As the headline of Apple’s first marketing brochure proclaimed in 1977, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication," echoing da Vinci's message. When I worked for GE years ago the mantra was "Speed, Simplicity, and Self-confidence."
We are seeing a theme here.
Imagine you are in 5th grade and, as part of a school project, you are given a large box of items and asked to build something. Pipe cleaners, pieces of wood, dowels, nails, glue, tape, straws, and fabric are just some of the materials that are contained in this box. There are probably about 30 items in all. In addition, you are encouraged to construct something on your own and, ideally, without parental involvement.
You get to work. Maybe you take out all of the materials and just start building. Maybe you sketch a plan. Maybe, if you are like my friend, Bob, you do something completely different. If you are like Bob you toss aside almost all of the items and keep only three that you have decided to use – a piece of wood, a nail, and a dowel. As the rest of us worked at building sailboats, campsites, and model farms, Bob traveled a path that was so brilliant that it resulted in him being questioned at length – almost interrogated – by teachers and school administrators. Bob, completely on his own, built a sundial.
Bob’s sundial was so contrarian to what everyone else had done that teachers were actually puzzled. “Where did you come up with this idea?” “Who helped you?” “What did you do with the rest of the materials?” While the rest of us stood proudly by our creations – I am not sure any of us followed the rule around parental involvement - Bob, being cornered by towering adults, kept his cool. “I saw this in Popular Mechanics. My Dad gets that at home.” The interrogation stopped and the teachers convened about ten feet away from Bob to discuss the matter. Looking back at the situation it now seems similar to when there is a controversial call during a football game and the referees decide to do a video tape review, leaving us all waiting with anticipation as to if the call will stand or be overturned. After about two minutes, it happened. I can still see it as clear as day. Just like the football official who starts his sentence with “after reviewing the play…” one teacher made an announcement. “We are excited to award Bob first prize for his project.” Gasp! Being a close friend of Bob’s this was exciting and I was happy for him. However, for the rest of the class there was a collective “what just happened?” reaction that was a mix of confusion, anger, and sadness. The beautiful boats cut at precision angles. The cows made from pipe cleaners. The planes with propellers that spun. All of these lost to a sundial made with only three items, one of which was cracked in the building process.
What Bob had done is exactly the message we are trying to get across. He looked at something and, rather than go with complexity, he went for simplicity. He did not get constrained by traditional thinking, and, possibly most importantly, he lived in a household that fostered a culture of curiosity and positive reactions to ideas (I know this to be fact since I spent many days at his home building forts and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches). The culture in which he was raised encouraged this type of thinking – almost risk taking – when faced with problems. To Bob, throwing out almost all of the items and taking about ten minutes to build his project (I believe mine took days) was not risky nor was it unconventional. It was normal. It was innovative. It was EASY.
It is August so what better topic to write about that Santa Claus. It seems in our crazy consumer society it is never too early to begin discussing the holiday season.
I once worked with someone years ago who taught me a great lesson about innovation and how Santa plays into the process. Spoiler alert - this contains info for those who believe in Santa.
Once, while this co-worker and I were talking he told me "sometimes you have to think like Santa Claus to get people to buy into new ideas." He had my attention. "You see, Rich, you don't have kids yet so this might not connect with you, but as a parent of little kids you can't take ANY credit for ANY gift. Even though you have bought, wrapped, and stayed up late putting the gifts under the tree, you have to sit there on Christmas Day with sincere joy and let Santa take ALL the credit. The gifts and that fun moment are not about you - they are all about your kids - and you have to fully accept that and be happy."
His message was simple but a tough one to accept - don't worry about the credit, worry about the outcome. Yes, there may be some ideas that you may want to have your name on. However, most of us never invent something like the telephone or the light bulb. With that in mind, why all the concern with credit? Maybe it's time to focus more on the outcome and true goal, i.e. get ideas embraced, implemented, and have engaged and happy employees. That sounds like a pretty good gift to me!
Ideas are often generated at the beginning of a process when a team is presented with a challenge or situation that requires creative thinking. However, ideas are needed at many more points along the way.
For example, years ago while working for a TV station I was leading an effort to develop a program about the top golf courses along the east coast. What was interesting was that our team spent a tremendous amount of energy coming up with this idea and how to present the concept to senior management in order to obtain funding and support for the project.
Finally the big day came when we assembled to meet with the station's leaders and pitch the show. About five minutes into the discussion one of the people reviewing our presentation asked, "what if it rains?" An awful silence engulfed the room. In a split second I realized that we had not spent time thinking creatively about the 'what if' statements we were about to be asked. We were so focused on what I will call the fun aspects of the project none of us had stopped to realize that we needed ideas on all those "messy" aspects of any initiative - risks, stakeholders, process flows, back-up plans, etc.
Therefore, while everyone seems to want the next big idea, often the little ideas are the ones that determine the success or failure of a project.
Side note: Thinking quick on my feet I responded with "well, we will be driving down the coast and then back up the coast so if it rains on the way down we can make up the video shoot on the way back." While there are obvious holes in that logic it seemed to calm people's concerns and we loaded up our clubs and hit the road a few days later.
The Republicans just finished their big shindig and now the Democrats have their blowout this week. While watching part of the convention I had a moment when I realized there is so much to learn about innovation from this process.
First, if you are running your company the way it was designed in 1832 it might be time to rethink your approach. Just saying.
Second, if your company is making decisions by which faction yelled the loudest in a 'yea'' or 'nay' vote you might want reflect on that.
Third, if Scott Baio is your big name draw, at least do a skit of some type like 'Donald Loves Melania' or 'Donald in Charge.' Those are so obvious. Where was Trump's use of Chachi's "wah wah wah' from Happy Days in his acceptance speech. What a lost opportunity.
Finally, if helping drive change in your organization hinges on a speech by your company's leader at 10:15 pm on day 4 of very boring off-site when most folks are ready to go to bed, it might be prudent to evaluate if that is really a good idea.
I completely understand that these conventions are really about media, promotion, and having a big boondoggle. With that said, what about your company? What innovative approaches are you using for annual meetings, off-sites, and staff meetings? Are you trying new and innovative approaches or is it more of the same old same old.
Take a lesson from the conventions - it is time to innovate.
I recently had the opportunity to travel to Memphis, Tennessee and do all the cool stuff that Memphis has to offer. One activity that was particularly fun was going to Sun Studio, the location where Elvis Presley (did I even need to include his last name there) recorded his very first songs.
Did you know that when Elvis came to Sun to record a song (anyone could walk at that time and pay to have a song recorded) the owner and legendary producer at Sun, Sam Phillips, was not there at the time? However, his secretary, Marion Keisker, was and, after listening to the recording, she suggested that Sam contact Elvis.
There are quite a few lessons here. However, in the interest of keeping with the theme of innovation, let's focus on just one.
Consider for a moment that person who you feel is 'just the secretary' or 'just an intern' or in some other more entry level position. How do you react to his or her ideas? Are you listening? Are you even asking? Do you value his or her input?
The key to building an innovative culture is being open to and respecting the ideas of EVERYONE. In this case, Ms. Keisker's idea turned out to be a pretty big deal.
Compare that to the reaction by the experts at the Grand Ole Opry who, in 1954, after Elvis' one and only performance at the Opry, suggested that he should "probably go back to driving a truck."
I guess all we can say to Ms. Keisker for suggesting and for Sam Phillips for listening is "thank you, thank you very much."