The Drive Towards Innovation

InnovationBy John Garrett

“Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.” – Steve Jobs Very accurate quote from the late Steve Jobs, who is widely considered the “Thomas Edison” of our generation. Interestingly, he acknowledges that the drive towards innovation often includes mistakes. History has shown us many examples of this – after all, the lightbulb was not invented overnight!

Many of today’s business leaders, from the CEO to the Department Manager, are more frequently utilizing the word “innovation”. It is frequently mentioned in meetings, conference calls, etc., often associated as an integral part of the organizations overall business strategy.We have commonly heard, “we must innovate our business in order to maintain our competitive advantage”, or perhaps “what is separating us from our competitors… We must innovate in order to not only keep pace, but also further differentiate our business while maintaining our industry position and overall cost competitiveness.”

In reality, these sentiments are clearly accurate. However, is it enough to simply discuss the concept of “innovation” over the course of a meeting? How do we foster an environment that effectively contributes towards creativity, empowerment and innovation?

As leaders within our organizations, we are challenged with fostering an environment, or culture, of operational excellence.To be clear, it is that drive towards operational excellence within the right business culture that often serves to drive innovative thinking and creativity.

Clearly, the rise of Apple over the course of the last decade is candidly one of the very best case studies we might explore in evaluating the correlation between company culture and innovation. It is just as certain that Apple’s new CEO, Tim Cook, will be challenged to keep pace with product demand, while positioning himself as the new face of the organization. Yet,I do not believe that anyone would argue that perhaps Apple has truly proven to be the most innovative company we’ve seen over the course of the last decade, rising from what some believe was a struggling (or even failing) business to one that has completely re-energized the industry, the manner in which we utilize our cellular devices, and basic computing. Just as sure, Apple has clearly laid the foundation for not only its continued success, but likewise increased competition and innovation towards product development. It continues to fascinate me that every major product launch, new innovation, or in some instances substantive upgrades, is treated like a major event by both the media and consumer.

Apple has literally created new industries and opportunities based upon the requirements of its continually improving product lines. Have you ever considered the multitude of ” developers” that have found a specific niche within the market by creating the various business and personal applications that we utilize on a daily basis for everything from participating in virtual meetings on the fly, to identifying which local business will provide the best price for that new flat screen TV you’re considering placing in your living room? In all fairness, there are a variety of excellent examples of the power that could be generated through combining positive work culture with increased emphasis on innovation and creativity – Google is yet another fine example.

At Facilities Management Advisors, LLC, we believe there is a clear link between improvements and innovation strategy and business culture. Our efforts in consulting various clients focuses on bridging the gap and ultimately tying the two together – it is our strong belief that as a business leader, it’s increasingly difficult to have one without the other.

Innovation Strategy, Services and Consulting

At FMA, we have hands-on expertise in Business Model Innovation, Process Innovation, Product Innovation, Organizational Design Innovation, Benchmarking, Sales and Marketing Innovation – all aspects of Innovation that our combined experience has shown drive substantive and equally sustainable business growth.

Here are what I generally perceive to be the top traits required to drive innovation within any organization:

Culture: whether we are evaluating the business philosophy of Google, Southwest Airlines, Apple, Microsoft, Intel, or Starbucks, these organizations to varying degrees have one specific trait in common – they believe that their business culture drives improvements in employee performance, research and development, product delivery, and of course among other things, innovation. I perceive that all of these traits are clearly interconnected, and the glue that buying this them together is corporate culture. I have always subscribed to the philosophy that culture drives the success of any viable company, or lack thereof. Clearly, this short list of organizations understands and has effectively modeled this principle for all of us.

Communication:If culture is in fact the glue that binds Operational excellence, creativity and innovation, than communication is the “bridge” that serves to establish the framework for effective implementation strategies, improved collaboration and organizational effectiveness across multiple departments and lines of business. Having the “playbook” is one thing – communicating how it’s going to be implemented, sustained, measured, among other things is quite frankly nearly as critical as the quality of business culture previously mentioned. Just as obvious, fostering an environment of continuous improvement and corporate culture requires effective communication strategies.

Collaboration: all stakeholders in the process want to be fully engaged, motivated and directly tied to the specific performance objective. To facilitate this, business leaders must create an environment for innovation that ultimately brings people together, allowing them to share ideas and fully participate in the process. It is often proved such efforts to collaborate that the process of innovation begins.Creativity, which often is launched through collaborative efforts is the engine that drives innovation.

The Best Idea Wins: I have always subscribed to the belief that the best idea wins, regardless of where that idea may have come from. Often, over the course of my career both in holding positions within executive level management, and now in my current capacity as CEO of FMA, I have continually seen the link between proper communication and sustained efforts towards collaboration yield some of the very best business ideas, many of which from came others as opposed to myself. It’s amazing to see the added energy in the room when individuals are allowed to openly express themselves without fear of repercussions – to openly express themselves and their ideas, with the promise of a significant return in that they can take great confidence in knowing that they made a positive contribution to the goals and objectives of the organization. Clearly, ideas is the fuel that jump starts innovation!The Process of Innovation

Recognition: everyone wants to be recognized for their efforts and individual contributions. Often, this is best reflected in the various Human Resource studies that demonstrate the power of positive recognition of employees individual and/or group efforts, with “being recognized and appreciated” often noted as the #1 attribute they seek in either a potential employer, or specific trait that is more meaningful to them than other factors including compensation with their existing employer.Effectively acknowledging another individuals thinking, ideas and work product is a key factor contributing to the employees success, and for that matter, the overall culture of the company.

Organizational Compass: although innovators don’t have all the answers, they have a better compass. we must maintain the appropriate performance indicators that provide clarity to words progress to goal. Although the process of strategy development, creative thinking and innovation may seem subjective, it must be of just delete measured in order to ensure perceived gaps are understood and strategically addressed, while still fostering an environment whereby the appropriate stakeholders are allowed to contribute in a meaningful way towards the solution design process. It’s not the quantity of innovations, it’s the quality of innovation that defines success – maintaining an objective scorecard analysis that provides clarity towards how we are defining success with customized metrics is, I believe, critical in ensuring the effective integration of all the previously aforementioned parts.

I firmly believe that innovation and success are interconnected – we simply can’t have one without the other, and sustain any meaningful level of organizational progress without placing added emphasis on the appropriate strategies that drive creativity and innovation throughout the organization. It has been my experience that true innovators have one critical aspect or individual trait – they simply never give up!

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