Does Your Culture Foster Innovation?

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We hear often about how companies like Amazon, Google and Microsoft are generating innovations, especially regarding artificial intelligence, through their corporate R&D departments. What lessons can smaller companies like ours learn from them?

Recently, Dr. Ishak, Chief Technologist for Corning Research & Development Corporation reflected on this question in McKinsey Quarterly (Sept, 2017) and identified a number of “less intuitive” ideas based on his 40 year experience. They include:

  • Practice “innovation parenting”. Innovation leaders should ground creative people in accountability for the organization’s objectives, key focus areas, core capabilities and stakeholders. Then give them broad discretion within these parameters. Obsessing too much on budgets and deadlines often kills ideas before they get off the ground. In addition, pay attention to innovator’s social development. Millennials, especially, expect and seek out opportunities to interact with people who interest and excite them; these exchanges build innovation energy.  Encourage relationships with colleagues in the internal innovation chain, from manufacturing to marketing and distribution; this helps them overcome the assumption that they must do everything. The result is that it reduces wasted effort and inspires burst of collaborative creativity.
  • Open up organizational space. Facilitate people to bypass barriers and hierarchies that often sap creativity and identify outside-the-box resources.
  • Encourage the unreasonable. While companies value unconventional thinking, cultures trend to reinforce tradition. Assure brainstorming participants that there are no bad ideas and encourage outside-the-box approaches. Challenge assumptions about products and markets; engage in scenario planning in which competitors challenge your strengths, and force you to rethink what you’re doing and up-your-game.
  • Stay focused. Taking on too many projects, because only one will be “boring” leads to a lack of ownership and commitment. Concentrate on a primary, immersive project, with the possibility of shifting gears to the other if the first hits a temporary roadblock.
  • Cultivate external relationships. Today many companies are feeding their innovation pipelines by partnering with external companies, including star-ups, national labs, universities, business accelerators, etc.. Allowing the internal and external partners to interact leads to greater achievements, as it did for Corning: bend-resistant optical fibers and Gorilla Glass.
  • Hire the best and do it fast. As with other parts of the business, identifying recruiting and retaining innovators and visionaries is a big challenge. Always be looking for great people!

What do you think?   What’s your experience in creating an innovative culture. Share with us.