Think about how you reacted the last time someone proposed a new idea to you. How did you react? How did you react when you heard a colleague, employee, friend, business partner, boss go “you know what, I’ve been thinking…”? Do you groan, let your non-verbal cues do the talking, wince… even secretly if it’s your boss? Thinking… Not many people do this often. Or do it long enough and reflect.
In the early 90’s, IBM found itself in a dire position. The organisation had over the years of recording success embraced an anti-creative and complacent attitude that had eaten deep into the company culture. Employees shut down and frowned upon innovative ideas almost immediately. Wall street Journal among other reputable institutions had advised selling the company to give the shareholders some value. But Lou Gerstner who was now at the helm, refused to give in. What he did instead was to infuse into the system a fresh knack for generating innovative ideas. IBM peaked from there and was able to compete again.
Now there are organisational cultures with routines and bad habits such as witnessed in IBM, very rampant today in many companies which sucks innovative ideas and stifle the developing of new ones that should then inspire it. But not Amazon.
Recently, Amazon unveiled a high tech “dash cart” for customers of its physical retail store to boost their shopping experience. This cart uses computer vision and inbuilt scales to identify items and charge customers without interacting with anyone or cashier. When the customer concludes their shopping, there’s a dedicated lane that completes the purchase and charges the shopper’s Amazon account. To use this cart, customers need an Amazon account and the app to activate it, which then links to their account. These high-tech cashierless Go technology will be available at Amazon’s upcoming grocery store. So not only has Amazon claimed their territory online, they are coming for brick and mortar as well with innovations such as this.
How is it that some companies time and again can innovate while others are just static and stuck in their ways? One major impediment is organizational inertia. Most businesses are set up to deliver predictable reliable results. One foremost absurdity managers face is that the systems that enable success today reinforces behaviours that are not consistent with discovering what will best work tomorrow.
I have attended a meeting that last for five hours. My question is, should the meeting actually last that long? Can it be shorter and more precise? Does it start on time? Are actual decisions made? Do people dutifully attend without a clear purpose or sense of why they are in the meeting? Are people active or just checking their IG intermittently? Is one individual or a few “top dogs” holding everyone ransom? Are many attending the meeting in defensive silence?
From experience, most meetings set up that way eats up all the time that people could have come up with innovations. People get spent, mentally fatigued and will just go through the motions and then it all plays again next week or month depending on the organisation. It never ends.
Innovation will be hard to come by in such an environment. Leaders need to be able to locate that link between systems, processes, approaches, culture, trends and how they can consistently create value. They are all intertwined. It’s time to change the narrative and enable innovative thinking in your organization or business. And the good news is that like most skills, you can cultivate it.
A young vibrant start-up, eager to take on the world had bold ideas but it was not translating into what they envisaged. The teams were fresh, buzzing at first but results were nothing worthy of inspiration. They typically fell into worn-out routines, and sales was predominantly the major focus.
To turn things around, we at D&I consulting decided to develop a workshop that would disrupt the unwanted habits and encourage novel and better ones. Their product was top notch and the value proposition was promising but some behaviours and company culture were not consistent with a company thinking of going global and making a huge splash in the industry. During the workshop, we discovered departments hardly exchanged ideas, they were more product led than customer focused.
We attended one of their meetings and not once did they discuss the user experience discussed. Ideas in the organisation was driven from the top down and employees cringed at the idea of responding to questions during sessions top executives participated in. When we concluded the workshop was concluded, we saw the fire in their eyes. They went on to improve processes and products and made record profits the following month. What we have discovered over the years is that there are things innovative companies do consistently. We shall discuss a few in this article.
THEY CHALLENGE THE STATUS QUO
When you download or pick up a questionnaire, all it does is ask questions right? Then you get a thank you for your troubles. This is what an environment where innovative thinking is encouraged produces. A curious mind. You will notice that I asked several questions about the 5 hours meeting earlier. If after say a few questions, you are still comfortable with a decision or idea then you’re good. Otherwise, little or major improvements will need to be developed. But try and ensure another person is the one asking the questions. That slight improvement in the meeting’s format is an innovation. Where people have more time to get other stuff done.
If a business into customer service for example has got such lengthy meetings and it does not address the customer experience, then someone should be challenging the status quo and proffering alternatives. A company serious about consistently producing innovation must be ready for confronting questions on what might be stifling innovative thinking. Take for instance the Amazon dash cart… why are we thinking about this? Do we think this is a good idea? Why will a shopper abandon the normal cart for this? I’m hoping this questioning exercise actually did happen because the reviews have not been great so far. Nonetheless, the fact that they’re always looking for ways to innovate and test new technology to make customers’ lives easier is always a plus. You win some you lose some.
THEY LINK SEEMINGLY UNRELATED STUFF
Covid-19, technology, anxiety, fear, brick and mortar. People are increasingly scared of contacting the virus. Because of this, they are avoiding crowded areas. But even a surge in online shopping does not paint the full picture. Customers will still love to go out, meet and see people and shop. For some, the shopping experience in a physical store is therapeutic or a pleasurable hubby and experience. How do we ensure those people can still shop conveniently with less anxiety and fear? I suspect that’s how Amazon may have crafted this new innovation they just unveiled.
THEY FIND TIME TO OBSERVE
Sometimes when I tune to channels such as National Geographic, I always ask myself how long the team that put together a particular production episode had to observe these animals to draw conclusions. Chimpanzees murder each other? Wow! You know all that stuff. Sometimes you need to study your customers and market like those “freaks” study lionesses and their hunting strategies day and night for months on end. Like the statue of liberty stands still and watches the entire New York city, you need to be that still and observant. Eliminate all forms of biases while at it and remember there is a limit to what you can do from your desk or google. Go out, speak to customers and network with potential partners you can work with to create ground breaking solutions.
THEY FLIRT WITH THE IDEA OF LIMITATIONS & DISRUPTION
Necessity they say is the mother of all inventions. I attended a webinar earlier this year organized by Lagos Business School (LBS). And a retired executive of Nestle explained how they came about the Golden Morn cereal. The economy had nosedived and they needed to look in wards for raw materials to save rising costs of production. That is how they came about the product and it is still a mainstay today after over 3 decades.
Multichoice did that with their value-based offering GOTV; an affordable alternative to their premium cable network to fend off competition. A unit or company looking to innovate often will not wait for an economic downturn or a new entrant however. They plan for it. Innovative teams also plan for disruption. What that does is, it forces teams to think of innovative ideas. Think about your business and little improvements such as building processes with less friction, less expensive, more convenient or affordable options.
Having an idea is great! What is greater is testing the idea. Like Peter Drucker said, ideas do not move mountains, bulldozers do. So next time you or anyone in your team come up with an innovative idea, commit to making a prototype, test it, get feedback and relaunch. This is what most companies with the edge do on a consistent basis. But remember to Keep it simple, fun and measurable.