A picture is worth a thousand words; clichéd but true. This illustration may also become clichéd, but whenever I see it, I grin and nod. Although the Promised Land lies within that magic circle, most of us can’t break out of our comfort zone. Recently, the Apple Corporation has shown the world a glorious example of how big business creates magic. No doubt, many CEOs will try to replicate the principles that catapulted Apple to the most valuable company on the face of the earth. Will they be able to do it?
One thing is certain; the place to start is the corporate culture. Magic can’t happen in cultures that don’t worship innovation. Innovation starts with leadership. Leaders must encourage creativity and teamwork, as well as processes and systems that nurture the concepts and execute the results. Most big company cultures are not innovative. Oh yes, they talk about innovation in their annual reports and their mission statements. But this isn’t the Apple, Google or Amazon type of innovation.
Take a look at your organization. How many of these traits are evident? If the answer is “not many”, then your CEO has a whack of work to do because this is the culture that moves companies from the comfort zone to the magic zone.
- Inaction is frowned upon. Innovators don’t put ideas before committees or tolerate whining about not enough resources such as staffing, data or funding.
- Fire, Ready, Aim is the mantra. I’m not suggesting you bet the farm on a big idea. Give the innovation your best shot now, in a “measured bite” rather than waiting months for all the information that might reduce risk.
- Failure is lauded. Be proud of giving novel initiatives a try. “What did you learn along the way? How will you make it better next time? When will that be? And by the way, what can I do to help?”
- Every innovation is applauded. Celebrations are held for anyone who has found a better way to get the job done. That includes receptionists, loading dock workers and accounting clerks.
- Successful innovations are corporate folklore. We know this goes on at Apple — employees are still talking about Woz. There isn’t a better way to impress potential hires than telling the story of how Max, Chris and Marion . . .
- The leaders have track records of innovation success. These are the people who stimulate innovation and permeate the culture to every nook and cranny of the company.
- The organization reeks of pride. Product displays, success stories are everywhere – on the walls, in the newsletters, online in social media.
Until the new economy, big business wasn’t expected to innovate. Innovation was the way of the entrepreneur. The giant’s power, expressed in market or balance sheet clout gave them a ticket to pass go, and most have taken the easy way out. They’ve acquired, beaten smaller players into submission and expanded, geographically. But now, in Apple, Google and Amazon we have examples of innovation at such staggering levels that I suspect investors will demand more of big conventionalists. In highly concentrated industries, leaders will no longer have the luxury of acquisition to drive growth. The pressure will be on them to “stop minding the store” and “start building new stores.” Now.