Target: Innovation

Affecting Change Means Reinventing Existing Business Practices – And Being Open to Experimentation and the Possibility of Failure

Innovation is the lifeblood of any business. Whether it is a groundbreaking invention or an incremental change in process, innovation is about generating new ideas that will give a company’s products and services a competitive edge. Business must constantly renew, reinvent and reinvigorate. In today’s challenging economic environment, it may be tempting to scale back — but it is actually more important than ever to innovate.


You tell yourself it’s a top priority, but between e-mails, meetings and fending off the crisis of the day, somehow you never quite get to it. How do you break that cycle?

STEP 1: Streamline business processes:
Identify and fix whatever has you chasing your tail, what doesn’t work, what distracts (and costs you) every day.

STEP 2: Reduce or eliminate non-value added initiatives.

Tackle those two issues and you’ll uncover a leaner and more flexible organization that is free to innovate- on-demand.

It is one thing to recognize the value of innovation but quite another to make it happen. Effecting change necessarily means reinventing existing business practices, being open to experimentation and the possibility of failure. It demands creative thinkers, fearless leaders, and a corporate culture that embraces change combined with the capability to turn new ideas into leading-edge products and services. No small challenge.

So how is your company doing? Is your organization leading, managing and creating a culture for innovation and business breakthroughs?

To stay ahead of the curve, organizations need to redefine the rules of innovation and build a culture for innovation. What is the secret sauce that allows some companies to distinguish themselves in the way they create a climate in which new ideas are encouraged, recognized and rewarded?

STEP 3: Encourage the idea generators.

Really encourage them. These will be leaders at all levels who champion change, generate innovative solutions and recognize that they must thrive on innovation and originality, encouraging risk-taking and divergent voices.


Scattered throughout your organization are idea generators with fresh ideas for enhancing your company’s business practices — whether it’s increasing productivity, elevating quality, redesigning processes or leveraging technologies. Perhaps someone in manufacturing has devised a unique idea for streamlining operations, while someone in marketing may be advocating new approaches to customer service.

Idea generators not only envision new realities, they use savvy change-leadership tactics to embed them in your organization’s practices. As a result, your company differentiates itself from competitors, workers strive to excel, retention is high and business performance soars.

To spot idea generators in your company, look for these behaviors:

>> Opportunity Scanning – Successful companies and leaders are constantly “opportunity scanning.” They search for market opportunities/threats and take quick, creative action.

>> Commitment to Action – You can feel the organizational pulse rate by the speed with which they “commit to action,” allocating and reallocating resources (time, talent and capital) to pursue opportunities. Decisions are made quickly, and intention is translated into action.

>> Constant Innovation – They engage in “constant innovation,” identifying opportunities and anticipating demand.

>> Constant Searching – Hunting for relevant new ideas in management literature, at business conferences — even looking outside the business for new problem-solving approaches. In other words, if you want your clothing company to cultivate superior service, have a cup of coffee at the Four Seasons Hotel. You will experience exemplary customer service in action. If you want to attract top talent, see how Procter & Gamble, Goldman Sachs or Pepsi does it.

>> Packaging Ideas – Idea generators frame their new ideas in terms of key themes — innovation, efficiency, effectiveness — that decision-makers value.

>> Selling Ideas – to managers up and down the organization: senior executives, the rank and file, and middle managers.

>> Implementing Ideas – For example, by participating in early, smallscale experiments.


How do you empower the idea generators?

>> Create meaningful roles for them.

Create formal units dedicated to exploring new business ideas or new ventures. Also carve out roles that leverage idea practitioners’ strengths. Ensure that they end up in a good position after an idea has run its course or becomes embedded in your organization. If idea practitioners are not recognized and rewarded for generating and championing ideas, others won’t see the value in pushing ideas.

>> Give them freedom to pursue new ideas or improve on old ones. Set them loose within the limits of explicitly stated corporate values. You’ll help them feel more comfortable taking risks within clear boundaries. Many companies have the 10 percent rule, giving people one- 10th of their time to work on projects of their own choosing.

>> Reward them. Idea practitioners are motivated primarily by intellectual stimulation and seeing ideas transformed into action. Reward them by listening to them and fully considering their ideas, visibly supporting meritorious ideas, and publicly acknowledging their achievements. My former employer, Motorola, for example, annually announces new recipients of its Dan Noble Fellow Award and recognizes a broader group of valued technologists by naming them to its Science Advisory Board.

>> Support their ideas. The single greatest factor determining whether ideas catch on in a company is the perception of CEO or top-management backing. Signal your support for a hot idea through organization- wide memos and management team meetings where participants discuss how they’re using the idea.

>> Create a culture open to new ideas.

To ensure that good ideas flourish, communicate the importance of embracing new ideas to risk-averse managers in your organization. Also encourage tolerance for the inevitable failures that come with exploration of new ideas.

Innovation is the hallmark of the history of every great company. Now, more than ever, constant and meaningful innovation is critical to commercial success. The worldwide business environment is fiercely competitive. Global trade, instantaneous
communications and the ease of market entry are among the forces putting greater pressure on product and brand differentiation. To be successful, it is imperative that we change, competing in new and different ways that are relevant to the shifting times. We must look at the world through new lenses and use the power of ideas to improve everything we do across all dimensions of our business, from modest improvements to total re-inventions.

Nothing delivers more value to a business than innovation. Nothing. Smooth the path to innovation and your whole company wins. In the history of modern business, many companies have gone from industry leadership to the verge of extinction because they failed to focus on continuous improvement, self-renewal and innovation.


Actually, you can’t afford not to innovate. Nothing delivers more value to a business than innovation. Smooth the path to innovation and your whole company wins. Curtailing innovation efforts in tough times is a long-term strategic mistake. A barren innovation pipeline increases the risk of long-term competitive disadvantage. As the economic cycle inevitably shifts upward, companies that have dropped the innovation ball will find their fortunes sagging just as the economy surges.

Research and development or other innovation-related areas are natural places to look when searching for areas to cut in order to meet stricter budget targets. After all, these investments are unlikely to offer immediate returns, so trimming them back won’t hurt the company’s ability to meet top-line revenue targets.

Assiduously avoid this temptation. It might seem like your core operations have already been cut to the bone through efficiency-related efforts in the 1990s and 2000s, but many companies still have ample resources focused on efforts that are unlikely to create long term strategic advantage. It is probably impossible to avoid a short-term crunch, so why derail long-term competitive advantage in a misguided attempt to avoid the unavoidable?

Of course, you must be prudent and spend innovation dollars thoughtfully. It is important to safeguard efforts with the most long-term potential, while also ruthlessly pruning efforts that aren’t going to pay off.

If you want to know how to innovate in a recession, there are examples right in front of you. Success leaves clues. All of the obvious successes — the iPhone, iPad, Kindle, Flip and ZipCar, among many others — have one thing in common. The idea generators in the businesses that created them are always thinking about what’s next. What’s around the corner? How can we capitalize on change? Perhaps you should be thinking these things as well.

—With more than 25 years of cutting-edge experience as a business leader, change agent, and organization strategist, Michael Winston has been in the “eye of the storm” in businesses going through massive transformation. He has held top management positions at Merrill Lynch, Motorola, McDonnell Douglas and Lockheed Corporations during seismic changes in their industries. This article is published with the author’s permission. For more information, visit the Website

Learn More: Hear more from Dr. Winston on Next Gen Leadership. Join his Web seminar on March 21st. Register free at:

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