Corporate America and Start up America want to stay on top, ahead of the curve and disrupting their respective industries. There are many philosophical discussions happening in parallel; but the practical application? That’s missing in many environments. So how do we shoehorn innovation into our 14-hour days and operationalize this practically?
15 minute stand up meetings regularly go over. We multi-task during webinars, and physically attend conferences but leave early because email needs us right away. Our schedules are crammed full but there is little time to invent those things that lead to better profit margins. And innovation sounds impossible when we’re steeped in bad habits. Let’s put our inner cynic aside to explore the simple methods that get us to better results. After all, we’ve seen the ROI on innovation and agree that it's worth pursuing.
The two components to operationalize innovation include: 1) The right human capital to dream big and execute ('the will') and 2) the day-to-day disciplines that execute the plan that leads to our goal ('the way'). To get from an idea to reality, let’s look at this 2 step process.
1) Innovative Leadership = Authenticity
It starts with the right team. And to accomplish the practical we must assess if your leadership is ready to take on the challenge of leading an innovative crew of disrupters because it’s a messy process at best. In Jim Collins book, ‘Good to Great’ he states “to build a successful organization and team you must get the right people on the bus and in the right seats.’
Culturally, it’s been proven that the most innovative environments begin with a posture that failure is expected when trying for the audacious. The more tolerant a company is of failure the more lucrative long-term profitability is. Google X’s Head of Innovation, Astro Teller, has the title, ‘Captain of Moonshots’ because of the innovative attempts he is responsible for shouldering. Jon Gertner, Editor for Fast Company reported that during his 2015 interview with the Google X leader, “At first, it seems Teller's point is that the tolerance for setbacks at Google X is uncharacteristically high—a situation helped along by his bosses' zeal for the work being done there and by [Google's] extraordinary, almost ungodly, profitability. But this is actually just part of the story. There happens to be a slack line—a low tightrope—slung between trees outside the Google X offices. After the meeting, the three men walked outside, took off their shoes, and gave the line a go for 20 minutes. [Patrick] Pichette is quite good at walking back and forth; [Sergey] Brin slightly less so; Teller not at all. But they all took turns balancing on the rope, falling frequently, and getting back on. The slack line is groin-high. 'It looked like a fail video from YouTube,' Teller says. And that's really his message here. 'When these guys are willing to fall, groan, and get up—and they're in their socks?' He leans back and pauses, as if to say: This is the essence of Google X. When the leadership can fail in full view, 'that gives everyone permission to be more like that.'
Cultivating a leadership team that is relentless in their pursuit of innovation starts with executives who are willing to admit their failures on their journey to success. When teams are patted on the back for coming to the conclusion quickly that they’ve made a mistake and then pursue a process to gather insights from it, they are more likely to rinse and repeat and find success in their iterative tries. Brene Brown, author of ‘Daring Greatly’ intimated during one of her Ted Talks that TED is actually a ‘failure forum’. Everyone who is there has experienced great failure before becoming a success. Brown submits, “There is no innovation and creativity without failure. Period.”
Tech companies have long been known for their foosball and Ping-Pong tables. Others might lean in the direction of a softball team. This can be a great leveler of title stratifications within an organization. It’s most effective if your senior executives participate and are not particularly stellar at the game of choice. This is not to say – fake it, but rather pick something where everyone is forced to learn from others. This will also benefit your brain because you’re learning something completely new and how well you played soccer last night will not hurt your performance at work, unless of course, you’ve torn your ACL. Executives who submit themselves to some harmless ribbing will give everyone a reason to smile, cause morale to rise, and inspire a culture of belonging. It is this that employees need in order to bring their very best to work and play. The making of a tribe is not just putting numbers on a sales board. It’s risking together and having fun at it. Let’s remember the long-term intent is innovation and positive results may come in various packages. Consider that you're giving your team goalie who is experiencing logistics nightmares in shipping a regular opportunity to casually submit the problem and her idea to solve it. Recruit the receptionist who has sworn off all sports to bring water and organize a cheering section and you'll have a more connected person handling your corporate first impression.
No time for this? Think of the alternative. Not so pretty.
2) Compass and Map = Daily Disciplines
Once a board of directors and CEO commit to cultivating an innovation friendly environment, you’ll quickly identify which of your executive cabinet is on board. To speed up the process significantly, there is a set of diagnostic tests designed to identify who will take risks and lean into the discomfort of skippering something that pushes the innovation envelope.
So let’s say the voyage toward innovation is made up of three parts. A) Benchmarking and historical analytics are used to measure the ‘now’ (we are here). B) The path to our ‘destination’ (where we want to go) is charted by our goal or vision. C) The journey itself is achieved through simple compass and map skills. That is, by pointing ourselves in the desired direction we’ll get there if we continually review the analytics and measure our coordinates against our ultimate goal. Veteran sailors will tell you that high winds and unexpected obstacles are always an issue during a voyage. It's the continuous measurement that keeps us on track despite maritime or business set-backs.
Analytics for Grown Ups.
In IDC’s recent study called, “What can we learn from Big Data Innovators” they feature a proprietary “Big Data Maturity Model” that benchmarks organizations’ competence across five dimensions: people, process, technology, data, and intent. Based on this model, IDC looked at the most mature organizations and identified what benefits they achieved from analytics. [IDC calls] these organizations the “Big Data Innovators” and looked at what they do differently from other respondents. These differences become useful lessons around increasing Big Data analytics maturity and driving success. Using this criteria, IDC found that organizations can transform and innovate iteratively when they drive their analytics disciplines through the maturity model steps: 1) Ad Hoc 2) Opportunistic 3) Repeatable 4) Managed and 5) Optimized. The authors write, “Big Data has a “snowball” effect: as organizations use it successfully, whether to drive improvements and efficiencies, or to effectively analyze and predict new products and markets, success will drive further success.” Identifying where a company is within the maturity model is important in terms of how they use of data. But is the executive team's commitment to essential analytics and disciplines that drives the assessment of the daily, quarterly and annual progress. This combination of rigor and discipline extends the scope of our view to two parts 1) hard numbers and 2) the softer side of things.
By Numbers: The first part is to leverage the Business Intelligence (BI) Analytics you’ve got at your fingertips. If you haven’t invested there yet, take the time to review your options. Second, benchmark your executive team from a few specific angles. What strengths are present among your leaders and where is your Achilles heel? Assume that weaknesses and blind spots exist in the organization. You may find that your highly strategic team lacks the art of execution. Or, while your analytical executive team members are mitigating risk beautifully they may be also slowing things down with heavy methodologies. iTalent has a terrific solution for this in their Change Management suite of products and services. It’s not only data driven but graphically capable of illustrating the core strengths that can make or break your innovative leadership team by measuring the preferred inclination of how individuals contribute to your company.
Softer Skills: Communicate the ultimate goal or vision via Storytelling. Can your team clearly articulate your vision and own where you’re going? Keep your message simple, passionate and encapsulated in 3 sentences or less. Ben Zoldan, CEO of Storyleaders and author of 'What Great Salespeople Do" helps leaders clearly find and articulate their corporate ‘why’ so that the team, clients and outsiders are captivated. In his book, Ben underscores that the best leaders think and communicate from the inside out starting with the why. He agrees with Simon Sinek's Golden Circle where "Sinek points out that [approaching] a story starts with the limbic (emotional brain) and goes outward to the neocortex (the thinking brain)". This is critical to making our our corporate 'why' resonate with our audience deeply. Zoldan encourages his readers and conference attendees to determine and define "The inside or 'the why' as a belief. Before you build a story, [you must identify] what is the point?......The bottomline is that if you don't have a point, you don't have a story." So much of our day is filled with meaningless content. By offering a greater goal that's bigger than ourselves, teams find purpose and meaning in belonging to an intentionally passionate corporate culture.
All of this requires the right team, an intentional strategy, daily disciplines of analytics, and the character to take action when the team is off course. Success never happens overnight. Instead, incremental change that intentionally creates an environment that’s living on the edge is magnetic. This attracts people who are passionate about measurable outcomes and who yearn to dare at the disruptive. It is also this tribe that craves a safe place to try things on, fail -
try again and fly.
At MiROR Partners we find the best innovative senior executives to insure you win the innovation game.