Are innovator’s born that way? Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsico worldwide. Maybe she was born with it? (Or is that Maybelline?). Steve Jobs. Mark Zuckergerg. Richard Branson. Jeff Bezos. Born innovators or can you download innovation? Can your company acquire a culture of innovation? Rebuild and create a new DNA that’s got innovation as core?
Most brands or companies that are seen as innovators today have a common problem – and an even more common solutions approach to that. They first recognize innovation. Second, they encourage and let it thrive. Third they communicate innovation from every angle – make it oxygen. And finally, these leading companies, usually have innovators at the helm, or have leaders who strongly support the culture.
Innovation is born out of curiosity. Innovators observe the world around them, sometimes from different angles, but it starts with a keen sense of awareness. Then they ask questions, they get curious about the why, when, how, where, who and they tend to find answers that are obvious, or are incredibly intellectually out there and mould-breaking. The obvious solutions are usually out there for every one to have seen, but often they are hidden due to corporate ennui. And innovators always seek out challenges – they meet new people, ask new questions, travel to new places. They find because they seek.
By nature, innovators don’t fit in. Too often, in my earlier days, I was part of agency protocol that ensured via interviews and testing that people we hired fit in. They had to be like us. Like me. Or we faced a threat of possibly hiring someone who would Think Different. Huh? This still goes on every day, in every way that companies are hiring today. Thus the profiling test, thus the personality modeling, the multiple-choice fill-this-in-our-way-or-go-elsewhere. It’s the fear of the anti-establishment. The corporate numbing comfort of same-same.
If you really want to reconstruct your company’s DNA hire some people who have different DNA’s to yours. That’s the only way to reconstruct. And then, find ways to cultivate and encourage this new, and different way, of thinking. This gets difficult as company sizes bloat. Big ships have large turning circles. Startups don’t have this issue. They’re nimble. One easy place to start is recognition. Step 2 is usually reward – and it’s not always big-company-fat-paycheck reward. Freedom, autonomy, authority, and a sharp sense of go-get-it is often all innovators are looking for. Fair monetary compensation is important. Innovators get poached easily. You can’t hide that light under a bushel too long.
One other area to keep an eye out for is the success/failure syndrome. Innovators by intuition are failures. If they don’t fail, they cannot discover success, or re-invention. There is no challenge. The bigger challenge is to fall down, pick yourself up and then go on to win. Corporate leadership that instils fear of trying or failing is blunt and old hat. Corporate leadership also needs to recognize that innovation at Apple is different from innovation at HSBC and different from innovation at JWT or your corner store. You can’t replicate form-factor innovation at Apple and apply it to a innovative new form of micro-wallet transactions at a bank.
I also believe that innovation is top-led. It’s both participation and encouragement. It’s about leadership making difficult choices that are outside the norm. It’s keeping the playing field fair but open. And to be able to communicate that, to push that across everything the company does when possible. With the innate and keen ability to be able to move the goal posts as and when.
Yes, you can.