C-Level Insights | Fostering Innovation

Successful businesses foster environments that are highly conducive to new ideas, while the rest tend to stifle anything new and refreshing. The corporate innovators of this world — those whose work environments are breeding grounds for new ideas — often have a process in place to capitalize on the talents of their most valuable asset: their team

Too Little, Too Late. With the goal of innovating their way out of stagnation, a troubled, reactive company will typically hold last-minute internal brainstorming sessions as a desperate measure. Unfortunately, the mere fact they must do so indicates they’ve never fostered an environment for great innovation. Usually it’s too late for a last-ditch effort to be effective.

The Rules of Success. Implementing and following a few simple rules can establish a work environment that inspires innovation. Adhering to a proactive process can generate great ideas that can be capitalized upon. The ability to foster innovation is defined by the attitude of a company’s leaders. Either they embrace the rules or they don’t — and if they don’t, they can’t fake it.

Innovative people can spot an imitation a mile off. It’s part of the gift of being creative. In the high-tech industry, most often the engineers are the creative thinkers. Great engineers are artists, and like artists, they don’t want to create the same painting or write the same poem again, nor do they wish to be told how to do it. Naturally, they’re at their best when they can look to their leaders for inspiration. It’s a simple rule to follow — and leading-edge businesses follow it all the time.

Innovation is not just technical; it is also organizational and managerial. — Stewart Clegg, leading sociologist and organizational theorist

Doubt — the Sure Way to Innovation.. Once I considered myself to be a cynic. Admittedly I thought this was an unattractive quality until reading a quotation from George Bernard Shaw on cynicism. Years later, a general manager at Motorola gave me a book about innovation. It said that most good ideas come from the dreamers, the smartasses and the malcontents in the organization. From experience I believe this to be true, for these are the so-called cynics.

Consider the Resource. Groundbreaking ideas don’t just appear out of nowhere when summoned. The work culture must foster openness and trust, where people are encouraged to question the status quo and look at things differently. They must have the time to explore tangential thoughts, to discover how their ideas can support the business direction, and to feel a sense of contribution. And they must be aligned with the objectives and strategies of the business. By the same token, leaders need to show appreciation for the efforts their creative people make — and have the courage to let them speak freely.

Process Makes Perfect. A proactive environment is not the only factor. It’s essential to have a process as well — one that brings the right people together in a structured way where ideas generate more ideas, and where themes can materialize and gel. This process must be managed to ensure progress and not allow the same issues to go round in circles. In the early stages it’s critical to allow for free time. But as progress is made, a sense of urgency must be injected to help the team reach productive conclusions. Ultimately the ideas with legs are those that fit the company’s scenario for the future, and can help it survive war games against the competition.

Before Spin, Plan Fundamentals. For the innovators, it’s critical to construct a workshop environment where ideas can be born, tested and validated against future market scenarios. The bold steps — the disruptive ideas — are those a business needs most, not the incremental, evolutionary ones that often come from a restrictive environment that adheres to the status quo. Which brings me to another great idea:

Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will. — George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright and co-founder of the London School of Economics

Listening to and encouraging their most imaginative people is what leads to truly innovative solutions in successful companies.

By Steven Rogers, Principal, Redstones LLC