Recently, several of my clients have asked how to make their company more innovative? Although this is not my area of expertise, I do have a few ideas that can help a company improve its innovation efforts.
1. Look for the Second Right Answer.
I find it interesting that throughout our educational career, we were always challenged to find the one right answer. Every time you take a test, you either pass or fail by choosing the correct answer. However, once you get into the real world, there is no longer one right answer. There could be multiple correct answers to a problem. Often when I’m sitting in a brainstorming session at an organization, someone will come up with a brilliant idea, and everyone will say, “that’s it, that is exactly what we should do.” My counsel would be to say, “that is a fantastic idea, now let’s come up with two more ideas just as good.” While this is difficult, and it takes a lot longer, the team usually develops a better idea, or the conversation helps them improve the first idea to make it even stronger.
2. Be Tough on Ideas and Easy on People.
I learned this working with Microsoft, a company with incredibly bright employees who develop world-changing ideas. One of the reasons they do that is that they are relentless in attacking every idea to make it a better idea. No matter who puts an idea on the table, it is expected that people will remain professional and respectful to each other but ruthless on the idea.
3. If You Want Success, You Have to Fail.
Many companies talk about embracing innovation and supporting risk-taking, only to punish employees when they try a new idea that fails. When this happens, employees soon learn to pursue the safest ideas, and super-safe ideas are rarely cutting-edge and innovative. To get employees to take prudent business risks, leaders must celebrate reasonable failures and create a culture where people are excited to try new things. A great phrase that sums this up well is: fail forward faster.
4. Make New Friends.
When trying to develop new products and services, companies fail to be innovative because they only look at their organization and their industry. The best companies look everywhere for great ideas and visit other companies in entirely different industries. They bring in experts, thinkers, artists – people from very diverse backgrounds to share their thoughts and expand the organization’s thinking. Most prominent, bold ideas develop from the convergence of seemingly disparate ideas that mold together to form a completely new idea.
5. Be a Fast Follower.
Most businesses try to differentiate themselves by creating compelling, exciting, and innovative products and services before their competition. I teach strategy at Wharton School of Business, and this is one of the main points I emphasize as fundamental to strategic thinking. However, there are very successful companies that wait for their competition to bring out new products. Then they look at the product’s weaknesses and improve on them to bring something to the market that is not new, just better. An example of this would be smartwatches. The first ones to the market were not well-received, and people like the idea but not the product. Furthermore, this allows competitors to avoid the mistakes of the first smartwatches in the market. They are able to build on the product’s success, and add new features that would differentiate their smartwatch as superior.
6. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is.
Last, if you want innovation, you have to invest in innovation. Taking a cue from number five above, all effective strategies are simply the allocation of limited resources. If you want to develop new and exciting products and services, you must allocate time, money, and people to research and develop a robust innovation program. If you look at any highly innovative company, their senior leaders demonstrate through their actions and investments that they need their people to think, experiment, and pursue market-changing innovation constantly.