Companies to straddle between two competing needs: to accomplish given tasks by accepting its assumptions, and creatively challenging them, sometimes with disruptive new assumptions which pave the way to innovations. Balancing those forces is not easy. Leaders often say they favor encouraging creativity and producing innovation, but support a culture that stifles potential disruptions to getting today’s work done. Helping employees DO their jobs well, including increasing their level of performance, gets more attention than encouraging them to CREATE innovative process and product solutions.
As I prepare for my next presentation on Innovation, I was struck by a similar distinction made by John Sviokla and Mitch Cohen, two leaders of PriceWaterhouseCoopers, in their new book: The Self-Made Billionaire Effect: How Extreme Producers Create Massive Value.
In trying to understand “what self-made Billionaires do best”, they studied a random sample of 120 and found that these “Producers” tend to be serial entrepreneurs who become wealthy after launching and growing several businesses, not their first business. Over time they’ve adopted the habit of turning ideas into great businesses by focusing on ideas, time, action, risk and leadership. They see unmet demand or potential for disruption and meet it head on. They look beyond an existing business or market to envision something new, develop the resources needed to make it real and often sell it to customers who didn’t even know they wanted.
John is the head of Global Thought Leader ship at PwC; Mitch is vice chairman. At PwC, as well as other companies, the management focus is on helping “Performers” do their jobs better, through continuous learning, ongoing evaluations, etc. which enables them to excel in execution. Many of the “Producers” had worked for the same established firms, but by redefining what’s possible, they found it difficult to meet its goals and standards and so left. Indeed, companies that create “skunk-works” operations – teams of people committed to developing a disruptive new technology or product – are often housed in a separate building in order to develop their own unique culture and structure and not be influenced by those used by the parent organization. (Also housing them separately removes their ability to influence existing “Performers” as they do their work!)
The challenge, then, for such companies is to find ways to encourage would-be-“Producers” to channel their vision for what’s possible within such companies, rather than leave. They also recognize by doing so, they will encourage would -be-”Performers” to go outside their comfort zones and take more time and risk with their ideas, which they then can execute.
A key element for success starts with hiring the right people: not just for operational skills, but also creative acumen; you want to hire people who are both catalysts for new ideas, and willing to support others’ ideas. Another is to create a structure and culture to encourage the habits of creativity. For instance, 3M, Intuit and Google, give staff time the opportunity to dedicate up to 15-20% of their time on projects of their own are using one approach. Rite-Solutions created a “stock-market of ideas” to create an innovation-breeding culture. Other companies use “innovation circles” and “let’s get creative workshops” (e.g., hackerthons), backed by budgets to work on some ideas.
Leaders who want to out-perform competitors and are open to disrupting the current industry, need to facilitate their staff’s ability to increase operational effectiveness and simultaneously be open to creative new ideas and how to implement the innovations through intrapreneurship. This is the real innovation challenge for most forward-looking leaders. How are you handling the need to have Doers and Creators within your company? Share your experiences and ideas.