The days when innovation was the sole responsibility of the chief innovation officer or corporate venturing group are over. Today companies are realizing they need to harness the innovative power of all their employees if they want to grow.
I recently got a chance to interview Gary Hamel, world-renowned innovation expert and author of innumerable books including Leading the Revolution and What Matters Now. He offers six rules he believes your company must address if you really want to unleash the innovative potential of your people:
1. SET UNREASONABLE EXPECTATIONS
The only way to encourage people to search for breakthrough ideas is by setting expectations that require breakthrough thinking.
2. STOP DEFINING YOURSELF BY YOUR INDUSTRY
Instead, adopt a more flexible definition of the business you are in. Define yourself by a competency. Amazon, for example, isn’t in the retailing business. CEO Jeff Bezos once said “there is no physical analog to what Amazon.com is becoming.”
3. CHOOSE A CAUSE
Rather than be in the business of being a business, as too many are, focus on a cause. Tesla is not out to sell electric cars but rather to solve the word’s energy problem. If your cause is clear you’ll do a better job of attracting and retaining revolutionaries, innovators, outthinkers.
4. CREATE AN OPEN MARKET FOR TALENT
Your company is wasting talent because your best and brightest people are being prevented from participating in the more innovative and risky projects. They fear the career risk of taking on a high-potential idea. Their managers don’t tell them about the new, juicy projects. You have to enable great talent to find great projects.
5. ALLOW LOW-RISK EXPERIMENTS
Related to the talent market is the fact that the risk of trying unconventional ideas is too high. Your company is probably designed to make big bets on full business plans. Instead they need to make small bets on lots of low-risk tests. They need to adopt lean startup approaches as we are seeing GE and a few other forward-thinking companies starting to do.
6. CREATE AN OPEN MARKET FOR CAPITAL
Your company’s top-down budgeting process is ineffective. It prevents capital from finding the highest return opportunities. Let capital go to building prototypes and testing unconventional ideas.
Put these rules together and we start to see a very different kind of corporation: a less structured organization and more of an agile, dynamic marketplace where talent and capital find each other to conquer bold missions through experimentation.
Photo credit: Flickr user Bert Heymans