In March of 2008, the United States’ national public radio system (NPR) seemed to have a fatal and too common choice: to bet on the past rather than the future. It’s the kind of decision that has initiated the fall of many once-great companies: Toys “R” Us, Polaroid, Borders, Macy’s, RadioShack, and BlackBerry, to name a few.
When you ask why large companies have a problem building an innovation proficiency, you get back all the usual suspects: “We have silos.” “It’s nobody’s job.” “We’re afraid of failure.” “It’s unpredictable.” And what do all of these things have in common?
The rules of the game used to be pretty simple for large food companies: Make massive quantities of tasty and inexpensive (if not particularly nutritious) food products, create memorable brands around them, and use their market clout to get them within arms’ reach of the everyday consumer. For my mother’s generation, the germ-free, safe, and convenient access to packaged and processed food was a boon.
In the 1830s, an artist and tinkerer, Samuel Morse, directed his curiosity to a question few had considered before. Numerous scientists and inventors across the globe were working on the problem of how to communicate across long distances more quickly.
Twenty years ago, long before we had children, my wife and I decided to spend Valentine’s Day weekend in Tuscany. We were living just a two-hour flight away in London at the time, so leaving on a Friday and returning on a Monday would still mean two days and three nights of rolling hills, wineries, and amazing cuisine.
As a leader, encouraging your employees to innovate isn’t just a nice thing to do for them. It also delivers tangible value for your business. But what exactly can you do to motivate innovation from within your organization?
What you measure matters. Consider a bridge built in Laufenburg, a town that straddles Germany and Switzerland. As the two halves of the bridge being built came together, it became (embarrassingly) clear that they would not align because they were at different heights.
Sometimes they don’t know it themselves. When they do, they hide it. But they are out there. Executives, managers, and business owners who want to stem innovation. If you no longer want your organization to try new approaches, if you believe that the best path to growth is to keep doing what has been working for years, this guide is for you.
In a glass-walled boardroom overlooking the Hudson River wrapping around downtown Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty in the distance, our guest lecturer flicked on one of the strangest slides I’ve seen. Juxtaposed against a sleek, modern room were two medieval paintings. One of a fortress. The other of a ship.
The folks at Fast Company and Forbes this month released their annual “most innovative companies” lists. Like many of us, I look forward to these lists every year. By championing those companies bold enough to challenge the status quo, they inspire all of us to do something different. By sifting from masses of companies the few that we should admire and emulate, they bring clarity to our innovation efforts.