Don’t Put The Word ‘Innovation’ On Business Cards26 October, 2017 / Articles
When faced with the need to innovate, many companies establish special units, or “skunkworks,” to be their innovation engines. Obviously, this only adds to the siloed character of their corporate cultures. This new silo of the chosen few innovators has all the secrets, leaving the rest of the company scratching their heads as to how they can help. This can give the very idea of innovation a detached, standoffish character.
The skunkworks strategy is not only a potential demotivator for an organization’s many other potential innovators, but it’s also risky from a very pragmatic perspective. If the business experiences tough times at some point in the future, a special unit that’s focused on innovation, and which might not be pulling in the same kind of revenue as other divisions, might be forced to shut down or scale back. Poof—innovation has just been removed from the company. Another practical risk is in having all of the big thinking locked up among a very select group of people who may not end up staying in the company. If you get raided, or they leave, so does the innovation practice.
The key is to embed innovation throughout all of the company’s stakeholders, charging (and empowering) everyone from the CEO to the receptionists to the customers and even the investors to be more innovative as part of their daily routine. In this way, the inevitable ups and downs of your business will never disrupt its pipeline of great ideas.
Every company has a grand story of how it was founded. For HP, it’s the legendary garage. For Nike, it was Phil Knight, the waffle iron, and selling running shoes out of his station wagon. For Johnson Controls, it was Mr. Johnson inventing the thermostat. As companies get busy, the importance behind those founding stories can be lost. They need to be mined as a source of inspiration and even guidance when it comes to defining the company’s identity. Most often, rediscovering that original vision—which is usually steeped in product and not marketing—can be the start of creating a deeper brand narrative that can influence every corner of the company.
What to do – Embed innovation, don’t isolate it
Do you have an innovation department? Maybe you shouldn’t. Try getting everyone involved in the process. Start by finding innovation evangelists in every department. Give them the task of getting others involved. Start an innovation movement. Make it contagious. Challenge people and reward creativity. Ultimately, figure out a way make everyone in your organization accountable when it comes to innovation.