On Corporate Innovation

I was at a my company offsite recently and we were deep into discussing why it was imperative that we move away from offering just wage arbitrage as a USP and embrace ‘Innovation’ more aggressively.  The audience was reminded that our competition was matching us on the price front and so ‘innovation’ was the ticket out of that race to the bottom.

That is when the epiphany hit me : Innovation is not and should never be ‘a Goal’. It is a FALLOUT of a certain culture.

Culture is a ‘photo mosaic’. Remember those pictures you see where there is a person’s face and it is made up of thousand of smaller photos arranged to arrive at the face of the person. Like this here. Culture is like that. Thousand of small actions and people interactions a day inside the office contributes to creating an org mosaic and some scream innovation friendliness and some just don’t. Now innovation usually results from a ‘fast prototype’ culture and the first 96 prototypes are mostly crud. The 97th usually is ‘Go To Market’ capable.

Robert Sutton, a professor of management science and engineering at Stanford University, who I suggest you read, says “”One of the best tests of my leadership — and my organization — is “what happens after people make a mistake?” ……Failure sucks but instructs. In fact, there is no learning without failure — and this includes failing at dangerous things like surgery and flying planes. Discovery of the moves that work well is always accompanied by discovery of moves that don’t. This is why failure is so endemic to innovation. ”

So ask yourself Mr.CXO if you are willing to climb the ‘failure friendly environment’ tree to get to the eventual fruits of innovation. For I have sadly seen A FAILURE of concept,idea,beta finish peoples careers here in Indian orgs.

John C. Maxwell in his book The 360° Leader tells us that we must model the behavior that we desire in our organizations. Consistency is key to establishing the culture you desire in your organization.

Here are several things to think about when establishing a culture in your organization.

– Your behavior determines your culture
– Your attitude determines the atmosphere
– Your values determine the decisions
– Your investment determines the return
– Your character determines the trust
– Your work ethic determines the productivity
– Your growth determines the potential

Innovation expert Scott Berkun got it bang on when he said “….Innovation is all about rapid iteration and prototyping. Which is really about rapid failure. Trying something and failing and taking a step back and trying again and learning how you are going to succeed. The beauty of the startup environment is we have nothing to lose. If you are starting from scratch you are always failing until you succeed. But in a large company, failure is not tolerated.”

Think about it this way. If you want an apple, you plant an apple tree and look after it. Do it well and you WILL get apple by DEFAULT. Without the tree, No apples. No amount of incentivization though cash bribes will truly get your org to become an innovation hub. Cash is like coke. The drug. Instant high. But prolonged use of it backfires very badly.

INNOVATION will naturally result when you get the culture right.  Getting the culture right is TOUGH. Very Tough. And that is why Innovation is a Unicorn we are all chasing to the ends of the org in vain. Spend time creating the right forest with the right ambiance and many unicorns will soon call it home.

4 thoughts on “On Corporate Innovation

  1. So true!! The word ‘innovation’ is so misused! Everyone wants to innovate but nobody wants to bear the brunt if things don’t work out the way they ought to. Where I was working this term was repeated ever so often, i got the feeling that saying ‘innovation’ was more a new cool word we had discovered!

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