Madison Ave Insights
New is the second most powerful word in advertising.
When considering incorporating into a business operation, it is, for most business owners, the most threatening.
New is moving away from the known, the status quo, the comfortable, the proven. New is moving from terra firma to the unknown.
Which is why new is never given the respect it deserves in business planning. The planning revolves around the established boundaries of the business. Beyond that, business owners and execs see the world as flat.
Columbus is nowhere to be found.
Unless there is an earthquake that rocks terra firma. Changing trends in the market or the economy. Think Covid. Or competitive breakthroughs. Or consumers finding the products to be old and stale. An earthquake that sets off a panicky search for a solution.
An innovation. An innovation that creates a fissure separating the company from the competition. An innovation that creates financial stability during Covid.
Problem is, innovations do not suddenly spring forth. For a company to be able to generate innovative ideas requires a process. A process you never developed within your company.
So, in this column, I will share insights on how you can build an innovation process within your company.
I will start with discarding some of the myths about innovation. Silicon Valley does not own innovation, nor do start-ups. Innovation is not limited to technology.
something new or different introduced: numerous innovations in the high school curriculum.
the act of innovating; introduction of new things or methods.
The emphasis is on introduction – turning an idea into reality. The definition is inclusive of all industries, including yours.
The second myth to discard is that a Steve Jobs, a Tesla, a Bezos type are required to produce an innovation.
Both myths create negative mindsets about developing an innovative process within a company. It seems relegated to a certain sphere of industry and requires a certain type of person to carry forth. Neither of which are true.
To understand, I will reduce the innovative process to its ultimate simplicity.
Innovation stands on two legs: problem gathering and solution gathering.
And, since it is true that every department in your company has problems, and that many solutions were conceived, whether implemented or not, by employees within those departments, the potential for an innovative process already exists within your company.
All that is needed is a culture of innovation.
What is a culture of innovation?
A company culture where you encourage the production and introduction of innovative ideas and solutions. Where innovation is understood to not be limited to management, and that innovative, breakthrough solutions and ideas can be generated by employees at every level in every department.
A culture of innovation is pervasive in the thinking of all employees, from management down. It is a mindset that respects the opportunities that problems often represent. A mindset that respects the potential of all solutions. A mindset that encourages going beyond the known, the familiar, the comfortable, and give allowance to ideas that stretch boundaries. A mindset willing to leave the usual paths of thinking and follow unknown paths of discovery.
A culture of innovation is not passive and reactive. You are not blind to the fault-lines that run through your company. You recognize that maintaining the status quo is insufficient to compete effectively in an environment subject to rapid change. A culture of innovation is not a passing thought. You give it the attention it deserves, recognizing that innovation could very well be the decisive factor in your thriving, or even surviving.
When it comes to instilling a culture of innovation in a company, Google is the benchmark. Here, in brief, is Google’s culture of innovation:
Innovation is a corporate mindset that filters down from management to every level of employee.
Management responsibility is to instill the innovation mindset.
Innovation is understood to not be limited to management, and that innovative, breakthrough solutions and ideas can be generated by employees at every level, on every department.
Google promotes collaboration and emphasizes an atmosphere of innovation.
Allows employees to share their thoughts at every level.
Google constantly holds sessions and pep talks where they encourage employees to think outside the box, release their creativity, and provide innovative ideas.
The company encourages the use of as many resources as needed to produce new ideas and solutions.
At the very core of Google’s innovation process is productivity in two areas: problem gathering and solution gathering. It is their process that brings results.
Employees can speak to any level of management. There is no hierarchy, so problems/solutions are heard at the highest level.
Collaboration is central. Employees share their problems/solutions with a broad variety of compatriots, so their thoughts are dissected, challenged, and explored by many minds, broadening the understanding and scope of their original thought. Plus, fellow employees have different focuses and disciplines, bringing in new perspectives to shape and understand the problem/solution.
Yes, there is more to Google’s culture – transparency, employee work flexibility, support of outside interests, and more. But Google and innovation are synonyms – one and the same.
And your company is not far behind. Undoubtedly, many of your employees have identified problems within their area of focus. Many of those have arrived at solutions. So why isn’t your company neck n’ neck with Google, spewing out innovations?
Because management – you – has not paid attention.
To simplify: Google has spent millions on its state-of-the-art offices, work areas, cafeterias, playrooms, et al.
All Google was doing was creating a “Suggestion Box.”
The environment and atmosphere are designed to create collaborative discussions where problems and solutions are exposed and explored.
Not just explored, but explored at length. Broken apart. Put together. Not just for one Monday morning meeting, but for as long as it takes to come to a resolution as to the validity of further exploring the problem or solution.
At Google, problems and solutions are not given short shrift.
The secret – and I will use secret, because management mostly overlooks this – is that Google understands that the first exposure, the early stages, are just the seeds. Seeds that need to be cultivated through further exploration. The problem or solution must be watered with questions, challenges, give and takes, different perspectives.
The suggestion box atmosphere and environment nurture the seeds.
The second secret – it is always more satisfying to let two secrets out of the bag – is that yes, Google operates on a very different level of problems and issues. Yes, they are global. Yes, they are changing the world as we know it. Yes – they are Google.
But Google operates with the mindset that any problem, any solution, can lead to a game changer. Problems and solutions do not have to be situated in the stratosphere.
The problem your HR department is having may lead to a solution that leads to raising the quality of your newly hired employees, which in turn leads to raising the quality of your management, which in turn leads to raising the quality of your client relationship.
The problem in your machine department may lead to exploring new resources that may reveal machinery that lessens your production time or allows more flexibility with material.
Monday morning discussions will not uncover that. Quick hallway chats will not uncover that. Taking five minutes to bounce it off a fellow exec over lunch will not uncover that.
A commitment to innovation will uncover that.
Can the Google process for introducing innovative ideas into the marketplace be a template for your business? Unhesitatingly yes.
In the next column, I will explore how you can do so.
Who knows? Perhaps in the near future, your company will be a synonym for Google.