for Boosting Innovation*
An article in the Times of London On-Line by Emily Ford provides
ten key rules for fostering innovation in the workplace. In difficult
times challenging workers at all levels to come up with great new ideas
can boost morale and boost revenues too.
1. Make innovation a top priority. Ford points out that “companies
that generate 80% of their revenue from new products typically double
their market capitalization over a five-year period.” In the global
downturn, a common reaction is to hide in the basement and wait for the
storm to pass. A pro-active approach — for instance, asking, “what
will be our new hit products when the upturn begins and consumers resume
spending?” — is far better.
2. Take risks and embrace failure. The global downturn has made
everyone — managers, investors, savers, ordinary people — far more
risk averse. To innovate, it must be recognized that failure is
possible, or even likely. Recognize failure as a worthy attempt to
succeed. Ford cites an
expert: “You have to give people the freedom to fail and to fail
fast… that’s a real challenge in a risk-averse culture.”
3. Keep your people’s eyes on the future. Many organizations face a
bleak future as revenues collapse and layoffs mount. An innovation focus
can fight this doom-loop spiral. Ford cites the following finding: “A
study of internet banking in the United States looked at chief
executives’ letters to shareholders between 1991 and 1995. Those with
the highest percentage of sentences about the future introduced new
technology the fastest.”
4. Foster creativity at all levels. Not all great ideas occur only to
senior managers. Often, those who work at the ‘coal face’ (directly
serving, facing or selling to customers) are best aware of changing
market conditions and hence know how best to react to them. Challenge
everyone in the organization to think hard about what they do and how
they do it, and how it might be done better and differently.
5. Break the rules. Innovation is breaking the rules. Challenge your
workers to first state what the “rules of the game” are for your
industry (nearly all of these are unwritten and unspoken assumptions)
and then, second, challenge them to create value for customers. This
does not imply, of course, breaking laws or ethical principles.
6. Collaborate across boundaries.
Innovation often involves cross-boundary thinking — linking a variety
of disciplines. Get your accountants, marketers, salesmen, secretaries,
everyone to talk to engineers, technicians — break company boundaries
in order to build new ideas.
7. Think global. Global geopolitics are rapidly changing in this time
of crisis. Innovation may involve rethinking the geographies of your
business. Where can we do business, profitably, that at present we do
8. Act fast and keep refining.
“Launch things early then get feedback,” the head of Google UK says.
Or, as Guy Kawasaki has said, controversially, “ship, then test!” You
never know if an innovation will work until you try it on a customer.
9. Critique your own products. Use innovation to rethink your own
products. If you don’t, your competitors will. Intel, for instance,
perfected this strategy by introducing the 286 and 386 microprocessors
to replace previous versions well before competitors could do so. Sony
failed at this. They delayed introducing MP3 players in order not to
hurt Walkman sales and, uultimately, lost a huge market.
10. Be ambitious. Even in a massive downturn set high goals: “When
this crisis ends our new ideas and new thinking will enable us to emerge
as market leaders.” Innovation has always sought not to gain a point
or two of market share, but to make competitors and their business
models irrelevant, as Gary Hamel taught us. Use your innovative vision
to scoop up great people laid off by companies who can see no future and
therefore will not have one.
* Reprinted with permission:
Prof. Shlomo Maital, http://timnovate.wordpress.com/2009/04/16/ten-key-rules-for-workplace-innovation/