Some companies just seem to have a magical ability to innovate. Over the past 25 years, Pixar Animation Studios has turned out hit after hit, with almost no duds (Cars 2 being the possible exception). IBM has gone from mainframe king to personal computer has-been and back to research and development behemoth. Google has gone from a search engine and seller of advertising to a major force in hardware and software, with new forays into health care and retailing.
But if you look closely, you’ll see that there is no magic involved. These companies, and companies like them, are built from the ground up for innovation. Here are a few tips to help you design your company to be a creative powerhouse.
1. Don’t Rely on Designated “Creatives”
In the innovation economy, creativity is a requirement of everyone. Gone are the days when the product development folks would do their work, and then pass of the project to the “suits” in marketing and finance. Having everyone involved in product and service development allows for exciting ideas that ultimately prove impracticable to be weeded out sooner; it also allows for creative input from surprising sources. “Every organization wanting to stay competitive in an innovation-driven economy needs creativity from every one of its people. We need innovative ideas too much to seek them only from a certain, imaginary breed,” writes David Burkus in The Myths Of Creativity.
Remember, Pixar was originally a computer hardware company, and only ventured into animated films as a way to demonstrate the hardware’s capabilities. Twenty-seven Academy Awards later, the company has long since sold its hardware division.
2. Eliminate The Middle Man
Fans of Mad Men are familiar with the ritual of creative teams pitching ideas to Don Draper, the ultimate arbiter of “good” and “bad” ideas. Sorry, Don, but hierarchy is a dinosaur. Rather than expecting employees to impress higher ups, innovative companies are now creating peer networks both to develop and to evaluate ideas. Writes psychologist Keith Sawyer: “Many studies show that cross-functional, collaborative groups . . . made up of people from different corporate functions representing all stages of product development . . . result in quicker product development time.” Simply put, you’ll know an idea has merit if a number of employees are excited to work on it.
IBM has made some famous missteps in its history, but in 2003 the company went right to its employees to identify three modern values and goals for the company: (i) Dedication to every client’s success; (ii) innovation that matters – for our company and for the world; and (iii) trust and personal responsibility in all relationships. The pursuit of these values has vaulted IBM past Microsoft in total value.
3. Invite Clients to the Party
As a young lawyer, I was taught that clients should never be allowed to see work product until it was perfect. Any attempt to collaborate with clients on product development was viewed as an inability to adequately understand the client’s needs. The new model is to send a product out when it is functionally sufficient, and then de-bug and ultimately replace the product with a more efficient model. For example, Microsoft is constantly upgrading and debugging Windows, and Apple keeps improving the iPhone. In large part, de-bugs and improvements are the result of client input.
4. Leave Time for Dreaming
Studies have shown that employees who work in shorter, intense bursts are ultimately more efficient than employees who work without breaks. Creativity requires the ability to step away from a task, and work on something else. This allows the sub-conscious brain to work on a challenge, making connections which may not seem obvious to the conscious mind.
This is part of the logic behind Google’s Innovation Time Off program that allows employees to spend 20% of their time on self-directed projects. Not only does the program make Google employees more productive, but the Time Off program is where services like Gmail and Google News were born.
In short, don’t wait for creative lightning to strike your company. Design your company from its initial launch for collaboration and innovation, and increase your chances of developing the next great thing!
A lawyer, mediator and coach, for over 20 years Eric Goldman has helped Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award winning talent thrive without traditional jobs. In addition to his entertainment projects, Eric now helps solopreneurs, entrepreneurs and start-ups in many fields apply the business skills he has seen create incredible success for entertainment professionals. Visit Eric at www.esg-esq.com, www.facebook.com/EricGoldmanEsq, and www.LinkedIn.com/ericsgoldmanllc. If you want to design your company as a creative powerhouse, contact me through my website. I can help you turn your passion into profits.
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