As 2013 came to a close, we looked at news items that seem to tie together the idea that anyone in your company can drive innovation, given the right culture.
Whether you are rebranding, launching new products, or innovating customer service, the company culture must enable innovation and change. Here’s how.
Asking ‘stupid’ questions is OK
According to ITProPortal, “From a cultural point of view, companies have to give innovators two things: The freedom to ask ‘stupid’ questions and to fail without fear.” In fact, they cite that “up to 70 per cent of new ideas end up being abandoned – even after significant investment of time and resources.” This failure rate means that: “innovation has to come from the top down.”
The right people
At a recent panel discussion described by ITProPortal, Srini Koushik, president and CEO of NTTi3, noted that to innovate, you need leaders who “celebrate learning over success.” In other words, leaders hire people who learn from failure and try again.
Leading employees past failure towards success
- IBM: IBM has had a culture of learning from failure for many years. There is a story several decades old, perhaps apocryphal, about IBM. A senior executive in their European sales area made a decision that cost IBM half a million dollars. He was called into his boss’s office at IBM’s headquarters in New York. His boss asked him what he had learned. Satisfied that he had learned a key lesson, his boss said he had just paid half a million for the executive to learn that lesson. The executive was allowed to continue in his position.
IBM is the only early computer maker still standing.
- Burberry: Both ITProPortal and Fast Company cite the recent experience of Burberry, the retailer who, about a year ago was facing serious financial losses. A reorganization, starting with new CEO Angela Ahrendts, implemented a company-wide focus on the consumer’s experience, referred to in the U.S. as “omni-channel, experiential or boundary-less retail,” according to ITProPortal.
Burberry is showing profits once again. Ahrendts attributes the turnaround to trust, but her approach also included “a series of successful digital strategies,” according to Fast Company. Ahrendts has been stolen away to lead Apple’s retail division starting in 2014.
- Yahoo!: Fast Company reports that Marissa Mayer has a laser focus on hiring the right people. “Hiring the right people, using them to build products consumers love, using those products to bring in traffic, and using that traffic to grow revenue,” Mayer says, is the path to success.
Mayer’s recent leadership at Yahoo! has nearly doubled its stock prices.
- J. Crew: Retailer J. Crew has been enjoying a fast-track growth, thanks to Jenna Lyons, J.Crew’s executive creative director and president, according to Fast Company. Keeping her creative team happy so they design a great line of clothing is key. She describes her balancing act with her creative team as being “like a glorified crossing guard. It’s like, try to keep people motivated, keep the traffic moving, keep people from getting stumped or stopped by a problem.”
Lyons has led J. Crew to record profits and expansion.
The lesson: Innovative leaders expect their people to ask questions and even fail
The Chicago Tribune’s article, Using Lessons Today to Inspire Innovators of Tomorrow, showcases Rabiah Mayas, director of science and integrated strategies at the Center for the Advancement of Science Education. She is part of a team that teaches young people how to turn ideas into a product and measure its success. Asked how she and the team help kids handle mistakes in the lab, Mayas responded, “What we know is that the inquiry process requires asking questions, coming up with solutions, testing those answers and revising them if they don’t fit. One of the things we’ve learned is that the first answer is typically not the right one. That’s something that’s celebrated in the lab. Our role is…to help them understand what questions they need to ask next to get to a better answer.”
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