Been a few weeks since my last blog post and a number of you have asked why?
First: An insane travel schedule around the globe and ProVoke speaking engagements, etc.
And: I am intrigued, fascinated and at times equally frustrated about so many aspects of innovation in big companies that I simply can’t choose what to write about??? I am seeing many companies genuinely wanting to disrupt, innovate and have a Culture of Innovation, BUT, at times, I see the corporate politics stall the process and in some instances damage the progress.
My passion: Figuring out HOW to replace command & control to inspire, motivate & innovate? What do you think? How do we overcome corporate politics?
Would love to hear your thoughts and I will have my next post up very soon!
Your relentless provocateur-
Yesterday’s Sunday New York Times article in the technology sector titled : “Big Data trying to build better workers” - caught my eye, no doubt….Big data used internally to understand and improve the work force.
I totally agree with Google’s philosophy. I am deeply involved with helping individuals in large companies become more innovative and for helping those companies to become more innovative. Large companies are delivery-centric with huge top-down command and control, so we need to disrupt heavily, work through the stages of resistance and start the movement towards a culture of innovation. And yes, inspiration is critical. Often a forgotten art in the heavy battlegrounds of a big company, inspiration and happiness is the key to having a sustainable innovative culture, hence a highly productive culture.
Google states that its happiest employees are their most innovative employees (we totally agree on this point !), and these individuals by definition are those who have a strong sense of mission about their work and who also feel that they have much personal autonomy. They view the importance of their ‘people-decisions’ equal to their ‘product-decisions’, focusing equally on people as they do to engineering.
A company is comprised of one element: the employees, the people-capital. I talk about this in the Ecosystem of Disruption. If this capital is motivated and inspired globally, the company succeeds. Some would say that Google is a new company and as such it’s easier to nurture these elements in a new culture. Well, as Google gets close to being 15 years old, I’m not sure it is considered a new company, rather one which the employees and new hires expect to remain highly open-minded and respect individual contribution and autonomy. Many companies, like Google, need to have practices in place to work on, perfect and focus on the critical asset of the company, the people and the autonomy of the people. Ultimately- their happiness. A paycheck does not assure happiness, it only holds the employee until such time that a better option is found. Innovative people can not be micro-managed. By definition, that halts innovation.
Big data is used to understand employees better and to focus on improving processes. To do so, a company needs to recognize that to improve the happiness- factor in a company, to create a sense of disruption and invite change, that this requires being open to change. Most large companies avoid change and disruption as they fear loss of control, which in turn they view as loss of revenue. The fact is that revenues always go up when the people are empowered and become innovative. The invitation is to break the old habits, and utilize the available information to understand and improve the ‘health’ of the happiness-ratio of the employees. I see hugely talented people who are exasperated and eventually shut down due to process and command-control processes. I invite big companies to shift the attention from procedures, blue-tape and arbitrary processes to the employees and tap into their most significant asset. Your employees, your people!
Having said that, I salute some of the outstanding executives in big companies whom I know who are breaking the mold and are actively bringing mindful-disruption to change the culture and create a vibrant culture of innovation. To my renegades: I salute you… Don’t stop disrupting , in order to innovate.
Fellow readers, this month GE announced that it will be opening up thousands (not thousands not hundreds) of patents from its library of 20,000 patents. First off, this liberation of IP (patents) is a huge forward move. Why? For decades, global companies have viewed their technical prowess, not in terms of new products and innovation introduced to the market on a regular basis, BUT, in terms of the numbers of patents held by the company.
This patent-holding pattern has many obvious problems, but the one I want to discuss is ‘suing’ and harming entrepreneurship. If you are an entrepreneur, you will need to fish through hundreds of thousands of patents to make sure you are not infringing on anyone’s patents which halts innovation because start-ups are reluctant to risk a legal fight with large (and more financially stable) corporations. In the process of this democratization started by GE, 5 key positive events will occur:
I. Start-up entrepreneurs will now have access to IP which they can bring their know-how and skills to innovate and create new products. They can opt to sell it directly and give GE royalties OR, alternatively, come up with a mutually agreeable plan with GE, for GE to market the product.
II. GE will connect with hundreds of start-ups globally, who can bring value to the market with their IP. Hence, they will know the pockets of talent which ordinarily they would not have been aware of. This in turn will spike up innovation at GE, for GE products and bring variety and diversity in the products.
III. This one is major: It is hugely difficult if not impossible to break through large corporations. This creates a communication bridge between GE and such companies, opening more possibilities for both sides, hence spurring innovation both at GE and outside of GE.
IV. At times may allow GE to invest or co-invest and be a part of the productization of the patent.
V. Beyond anything else, this allows our global community to innovate at a much higher rate than we see today.
To start off, GE has decided to use Quirky’s crowdsourcing product development platform. Hey- I am all for the crowdsourcing of innovation. Quirky will play the role of the online platform, connecting folks who can productize the patent into a useable innovative product for GE. Currently, we know a subset of the patents, but soon many more will be identified. I am excited about companies like Quirky which are taking crowdsourcing into another level and allowing such a marketplace.
Having said that, let’s remember, once the patent is openly available and the developers/entrepreneurs identified, we would benefit greatly if we build sustainable prototyping and funding models to move the process forward rapidly and not just celebrate because we have an enabling platform. To make this work, we need to take the innovation to the final stage, which is turning IP (patents) into products which the market wants and where revenue is produced. But this is a key first step.
For decades, we have known that patents are silent silos where we hide our abilities carefully and which we police to make sure no one can touch it. This move by GE is a whole new ball game. Yes, this opens the door to nations such as China and India, who have a wealth of technical talent who can productize IP efficiently, and I salute that. Let the games begin.
What GE has done is a full disruption to the world of IP ownership. Instead of doing what Motorola did with Google (selling the IP portfolio and now Google owning the IP) or what Kodak is desperately doing but not succeeding (trying to make money off of the IP), GE is changing the game. As I talk in ProVoke, innovation and positive change can only come if we are willing to mindfully disrupt. GE is mindfully disrupting a highly protected area and clearly there will be resistance by some companies, but it will, without a doubt, forward us towards success. Without a willingness to change things, nothing changes and nothing improves. Stay tuned as I keep you posted on this front. GE is an absolute member of my Culture of Disruption (CofD).
More and more I am seeing senior executives in large companies inspired and challenged by the task of ‘how to encourage staff’ to make deeper and bolder bets, choices and decisions. Ironically, I am seeing this in companies where top-down command and control would have not allowed us to have had this conversation before. The article in yesterday’s WSJ touches on this point and a good read.
Why and why NOW?
Companies in all sectors have a huge challenge ahead. They need to INNOVATE. The more employees and staff are engaged and involved, and the more risk they take, the higher the chances of success. Yes, that is right in the face of the FEAR of failure from risks. The more isolated staff are from taking risks, the lower the chance of the company to succeed. This directly relates to innovation. To innovate and to allow new possibilities in ANY business, we need to think of new ideas, experiment, take risks, win big or fail fruitfully. Yes, failure is the step before success not the last step.
To do so, folks need to step outside of their comfort zone, break their daily habits and use their creative juices to think through alternatives.
Being a CEO is a lonely game. It is singular. One CEO. Imagine the pressure if all the innovation and new ideas have to come out of one person. Instead what if it came from thousands or tens of thousands of staff in a company?
More and more, I am engaged in inspiring conversations with leadership in companies regarding not only how to help break the risk-averse habit loops, but ALSO how to inspire people to make more bets and take bigger risks. In as such, we need to remove and reduce the fear of failure or any perceived (and often these are obstacles in our mind!) risk.
Get Out of Jail, Free cards are one model and another one which I very much like is Risk REWARDS, which are handed out even if ideas don’t work out, but recognizes the initiative to make bold decisions. Decisions don’t have to be huge one, but can be small ones which are game changing. In almost all companies I am seeing this conversation come up, which is fantastic. The pressure to innovate is growing in all companies and innovation comes from ONE SOURCE: FROM THE TALENT in companies and the talent is YOU!
So, let your management know what Get of Jail, Free cards would inspire you to be bold, take risks and make the impossible be possible. Trust me, your management is listening and waiting!!!
- This CEO Is Giving His Employees ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ Cards (businessinsider.com)
- ‘Get out of jail free,’ courtesy of Extended Stay CEO (bizjournals.com)
First let me come clean:
• Yes, I love and am a big fan of big global companies (large enterprises)
• Innovation is rampant and a regular occurrence in such companies
• Innovation happens at many levels in large enterprises: brand new innovation and enhancements to existing products
• Startups are fundamentally experimental, with good hypotheses around scaling
• Large enterprise products run in the millions of products by tens of millions of users
• And more…
So, let’s get something clear: Large enterprises are constantly innovating. However, every innovation has to run flawlessly by a massive global customer base. Yes, I am biased as everyday I see the amazing strides that my clients in Defense, Automotive, Finance, the Tech industry, Consumer Products and Electronics and others make. I am continuously fascinated to see how the complex machinery works. So, to say large enterprises don’t innovate is absurd and groundless. While the figures for R&D are inflated at times, there is a healthy dose of R&D occurring in large companies, whereas in start-ups, R is embedded in D!
Here I have to digress: Let’s talk about the ‘cool-factor’… the notion that unless I am more hipster than not, am always multi-tasking, am below the age of 30, unable to sit still without a device in my hand, and have piercings and tattoos that I am not cool-enough to brilliantly innovative is a false one! Seriously, …genius comes in many different packages. To me ‘cool’ is to see brilliance in action: from the time I started my career in a think tank, BBN (where our motto was “smart people solving complex problems”), all the way to this last week when I was sitting in a room of brilliant researchers and engineers with one of the top global auto companies. I was blown away with what they have done and continue to do in a scale of millions. That is as awesomely cool as are start-ups, but no need to assume that cool comes only in one style! Embrace who you are and how you impact innovation.
Now back to innovation and large enterprises: The better question to ask is if we have enough diverse disruption and innovation, and if innovation is fast enough? The business model in large companies is supported by sales & revenue, while in start-ups, it is supported by continual rounds of financing in hopes of large revenue. Much of the fundamental technology which we use today has come and continues to come from large enterprises, but our fascination about innovation is focused heavily on start-ups. Don’t get me wrong, I love start-ups and invest and work with start-ups globally, but innovation happens everywhere. Yes, we need to raise the bar and speed up the pace, diversity & timing of innovation in large companies, but to my friends in large enterprises I say: Never forget you are amazing innovators!
From my over two decades of immersion in large global enterprises, what is lacking is not innovation but rather inspiration & invigoration. Why? The pressure to be perfect in delivery and increase sales, kills inspiration. If you cannot be inspired you will not be invigorated. These two parts go hand in hand. Deliverables, deadlines and schedules, at times, does not leave a moment to breathe, nevertheless inspire oneself or others—- this is where our focus should be going. People talk about the politics in large companies, and I invite you to see the ego & politics in start-ups. I am a fan of both, but perhaps a bit tired of hearing the phrase: large companies do not innovate! That is simply wrong.
I recently read Whitaker’s blog on why he joined Microsoft and that sparked some thoughts. I don’t agree with all the points, but there are some good points being made.
Microsoft approaches its 30th birthday. Google and Yahoo over 10 years old. Many more companies maturing. Let’s face it – the face of innovation is changing. Along with the giants that are now in their 20-100th year anniversary, innovation is everywhere! Let’s focus on inspiration and invigoration and change the dynamics of how we innovate! I congratulate all the innovators out there: In every country, start-ups and large companies…you all rock!