One of the biggest challenges in any business, large or small, is overcoming the natural human preference for status quo, or fear of change. It means that most team members and executives alike have a natural tendency to prefer killing innovations rather than implementing them. Even customers, while they all want the next big thing, want it to happen with minimal new learning.
These fears and how every business can counter innovation assassination are explored in a classic book, “Robert's Rules of Innovation II: The Art of Implementation,” by Robert F. Brands, who brings decades of experience implementing innovation as the founder of InnovationCoach®. His goal is to teach us how to drive a culture of continuous innovation into every work environment.
Brands book is based on the implementation of nine principles of innovation originally developed by Google way back in 2008 by Marissa Mayer. I believe these principles, paraphrased here, should be adopted by every entrepreneur struggling to accomplish innovation in a startup in any market:
- Innovation can come from anywhere in the organization. Entrepreneurs should look for ideas from anyone, inside the organization or outside, top down or bottoms up, but the implementation responsibility is all yours. Startup leadership and survival is all about execution. That culture has to come from the top down, by your actions and messages.
- Focus on customer needs rather than profits. When innovations are implemented that have clear value and acceptance by customers, business success will follow. That’s the win-win equation we are all looking for. It also propagates back inside your company, via happier and more motivated employees, and far outside as societal advancements.
- Target factor of ten improvements, not 10 percent. Some experts have long felt it is easier to make something 10 times better than it is to make it 10 percent better. It’s called radical innovation versus incremental improvement. It forces one to step from existing assumptions and tools, and lean instead on creativity and thinking outside the box.
- Let new technical insights drive innovative products. For Google, this has led to self-driving cars, based on work with Google maps and artificial intelligence. Every startup technical team has unique insights, which should become new innovations. All too often, these insights are ignored by the company, and developers leave to become competitors.
- Ship and iterate, don’t expect instant perfection. Too many innovations get caught in analysis paralysis, and die an expensive death. No technical analysis has the power of real-time user and market feedback. Perfection is impossible in today’s rapidly changing market, and iterations are part of educating the market as well as your team.
- Spend twenty percent of work time on innovation. Everyone in a company should be encouraged to spend fully one-fifth of their time pursuing ideas for positive change, even if it is outside the core job or core mission of the company. This approach works best if you start with a focus on hiring change agents, and incentive programs for innovation.
- Set your default to sharing rather than proprietary. Information sharing and open source facilitates collaboration on a huge scale, and can bring in as many innovations as are sent out. It also increases market acceptance of innovations, by allowing concurrent work on integration, standardization, and support structures outside your company.
- Tolerate no negativity attached to failure. Stigmas and penalties for failing are among the largest gates to innovation. Like Thomas Edison famously said, failure is simply learning what doesn’t work. Failing well to Google means failing fast and failing cheap, all very positive attributes in today’s rapidly changing and highly competitive world.
- Instill a mission and purpose that matters. People think harder if they really believe their innovations will impact millions of people in a positive way. Work can be more than a job when it stands for something people care about, and involves giving more than taking. Entrepreneurs are seeing huge premiums these days for giving back generously.
The current pandemic brings new challenges which need to be addressed. There is no more time for excuses, no reasons to postpone, ignore, or otherwise assassinate innovation in your organization. Whether you manage an entrepreneurial startup or a multinational conglomerate, the pressures are unprecedented. Are you now unleashing your team’s full execution abilities?