Recent travels have led me to consider the type of corporate environment—or culture—that would be most receptive to the development of innovative products.
How do you create a company in which disruption is valued? And how do you turn a company from “we’ve always done it this way” to everyday disruption is the usual.
Serendipitously, I noticed The Three Things We Did to Create a Culture of Innovation, a Forbes article by Eli Portnoy, founder of Thinknear (since acquired by TeleNav).
The first step
The founding of Thinknear, which helps brick-and-mortar companies buy targeted mobile ads to supercharge their marketing, occurred because competitors “worked really hard to bring what had worked on desktop computers to mobile devices”—a shift, yes, but not a disruption.
Portnoy’s team, instead, “analyzed every capability on the phone and ultimately realized that the portable nature of a phone combined with the precise location capabilities of the GPS created all sorts of new advertising opportunities”—a clearly disruptive approach, asking, how can we exploit these two new technologies, which now work together, to create breakthrough marketing approaches? Disruptive innovation literature calls this “associating” and is the ability to make connections across different domains or knowledge areas.
A prescription for a culture of innovation
1. A fresh perspective.
Portnoy confesses that neither he nor Thinknear’s co-founder had tech-based advertising experience, which was key to their “finding an opportunity that no one else was seeing.” I am not surprised that someone lacking domain expertise could see new insights that other experts missed – experts too often make assumptions that limit innovation.
Portnoy hired 25 staff, none of whom had tech-based ad experience. Not the usual hiring approach. That alone was disruptive thinking. He says:
I wanted them to bring a fresh perspective, to see the world from the lens of mobile not the lens of advertising, and to question everything. This allowed us to redefine every piece of our business, from the product, the technical architecture, our support services, and even our reporting.
2. Speak out; don’t be afraid to be the lone voice.
Sometimes persevering may look crazy, but still may be the right thing to do. That points to a step in most successful product innovation launches: trial and error testing until it’s right. That is How Nike Ran Ahead in Innovation, as I noted in an earlier blog post. Portnoy seems to be saying that the same concept holds true for infusing a corporate culture with innovation.
3. Call on advisors to help avoid land mines.
Portnoy argues that since customers expect things to be done in a certain way, and since industries all have some types of constraints, sage advice helps a disruptor walk the fine line between unconstrained disruption and traditional approaches—creating a pragmatic pathway to success.
Building a truly innovative culture depends on a fresh perspective, speaking out, and seeking advice from a few key advisers.
Not surprisingly, the approach parallels the steps to develop a successful launch of an innovative product:
- Take the first step to ask the right question. That leads to the product idea.
- Once you have a product idea, use a fresh perspective and avoid assumptions to flesh out the idea and build a prototype.
- Test and test again until it’s right, staying close to customers.
- Consult with advisers to avoid land mines on the path towards product launch.