Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Guest Post: Three Mistakes - Innovation as a Culture

Author: Prateek

When ‘The HR Store’ asked me to write a guest post for his blog, I was not only surprised but overwhelmed with gratitude. The gratitude because, one of the best compliments you can get from a blogger is that he thinks your views are worthy enough to be displayed on his blog. And surprised because his being a blog of a niche focus in the area of HR, and my credentials in the field are limited to reading a couple of books and interacting with working HR professionals in couple of organizations. So for this blog post I have picked up a topic which has always been something which I look up to in an organization. My level of respect and adoration grows leaps and bounds for any organization who can display the elusive traits of Innovation.

Innovation as an organization culture has always been a nightmare for organizations. The perfect blend of processes that might nurture innovation in the organization has eluded professionals across the globe. There have been companies that have invested millions of dollars to get the better of the competition year after year.

Steven Jobs is one professional who I have always looked up to, for his clarity of thought and vision for an organization. If anyone has been able to inculcate a culture of innovation successfully in an organization, that person would be Jobs. I present here my learning from reading about Jobs & Apple, on Innovation.

Dollars vs. People
"Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it."-- Steve Jobs, Fortune, Nov. 9, 1998

One common mistake a lot of organizations do to be innovative, is choosing a wrong starting point. You have got it wrong in the first place if your idea of innovation starts with an R&D budget. The idea of innovation is not having a fixed amount to money to spend, but to identify a set of people who are willing to bring about change in an organization, who have the ability and vision to produce next level of products or services. There should be a budget for financial responsibility and accountability for sure, but the idea that a budget is allocated based on current mindset and vision of an organization to innovate is flawed. R&D organizations need to be restructured independently, with a set of goals that's in-line with that of the organizations.

Age vs. Experience
"It's rare that you see an artist in his 30s or 40s able to really contribute something amazing."-- Steve Jobs, At age 29, in Playboy, February 1985

If we actually look at innovation, it's more of an art than science; it's less of process and more of out-of-box abilities of a person or even an organization. As Steve Jobs points out, age is often an ignored criterion but somewhere in configuring an overall organization mix to establish innovation as culture this needs to be considered. There are two ages of people where the innovation peaks, one in early age mainly triggered of the youth & enthusiasm to keep trying that which is not tried. One that involves taking risks traversing unchartered or untried territories. The second time is late into one's professional career where experience teaches people of ways that things could work; the fall-outs and possible areas of improvement. Though an organization cannot ensure this non traditional distribution of age for innovation, it can be work towards providing a borderless culture to allow the voice of youth and experience to communicate and ideate. This probably is the best shot at innovation, because talent which can be innovative is present within most organizations, but often the channel or medium to communicate those ideas to a level where something sufficient can be achieved is missing.

Process vs. Individuals
"It is hard to think that a $2 billion company with 4,300-plus people couldn't compete with six people in blue jeans."-- Steve Jobs on Apple's lawsuit following his resignation to form NeXT (Newsweek, Sept. 30, 1985)

This is a million dollar observation! Mighty giants with thousands of brains working in tandem with each other are still beaten hands down when it comes to innovation by smaller start-ups. This is an illogical and at times even a paradoxical situation, that an organization with huge amount of talent is not innovative enough and few of its employees can simply quit, making it big by innovating. Case in Point: Patni Computers, Infosys, Wipro and Mindtree among many more companies that one can follow. I believe that the primary reason for this kind of occurrence lies in the fact that the cumulative energies of people is being diverted to a completely different area of work. It may be so because they are restricted by communications channels, processes and systems or even plain office politics. So when an organization is structured such that it allows for free flow of ideas, there's an opportunity that it is considered seriously and brainstormed. This is a key point which should be kept in mind while designing an innovation core for the organization.

I believe these are the three mistakes organizations have been doing time and again while eyeing for innovation to be at their core. The idea should be to strive towards a perfect balance which would maintain status quo of the day to day business while at the same time increasing the overall entropy of innovation in the system. Thus, setting it for a better and more stable state.

About the Author

Prateek is a Business Process Consultant working in Supply Chain Management and Planning Space. He is a passionate blogger, a technology enthusiast and a social media junkie. He blogs about topics like Organization Processes, General Management, Personal Management, and Business Issues. You can read more about him here.