Innovation is a buzzword. It’s a fun buzzword but it’s still a buzzword. Innovative organisations don’t need to claim to be innovative, just as organisations that are courageous, diverse and respectful, don’t need to claim they are so. Often if it’s true, it doesn’t need to be said.
This is also apparent in the reverse, which is why we hear people who voted for Brexit saying, “I’m not racist, but…”. Values in business are too often aspirational, rather than real; they are a gloss of paint to cover the true form.
This post isn’t a criticism of companies that position themselves as innovative. It’s just that the innovation claim usually indicates the start of long cultural journey rather than the end of it.
People tend to treat internal and external communication as a way of making things so, as if the CEO telling his/her employees something, will flick a switch and bring a reality into existence.
It doesn’t matter how many incredibly talented people with MBAs from Oxford or Cambridge grace your office floors. People are almost always prepared to say one thing, while doing the complete opposite.
Sometimes it takes an outside perspective to provide the fresh pair of eyes that is needed to turn your organisation’s hopes and dreams, into just how things are.
The Flag of Your Phones
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Technology has become symbolic of our individual identities and our collective identity. To what tribe does your organisation belong? To what tribe do you want it to belong?
If you’re in “club innovation” your bedfellows are those at the cutting edge, the aspirational companies like Apple, Google and Tesla Motors. So you cannot be – and I can’t make this point fervently enough – part of team Microsoft.
Right now using a Blackberry or a Windows Phone is the equivalent of putting up a Confederate flat; it is old-fashioned, restrictive and disconnected from the rest of the world.
Innovation tip 1 is use Apple or Android. Bring the great experiences people have with technology outside work, inside work. Let your people use the technology they love, and they will love you back.
Microsoft purveys most organisations. Intranets across the globe appear to be infected by SharePoint. People regularly explain they can’t find information, and it falls to more experienced members in the company to “dig out the documents” and forward them on.
SharePoint has not been designed by an innovative company, it’s been designed by an old-fashioned company that is lagging behind its competition. Despite the investment that has already been made in your existing technology, the most sensible long-term solution is to redesign the intranet using user-centred design principles, making it mobile, and bringing all the most relevant information to the surface.
Your Clown Face
Your external website is your shop window, it’s the face of your company. Just as with your intranet, there are probably layers upon layers of information, most of which won’t be read.
For me, many company websites lack clear direction and perhaps an understanding of the purpose of having the site in the first place. People need to know who you are, what you stand for, and what awesome things we have done.
There are wonderful examples of companies that do this brilliantly. The clearest case for purpose is in the comparison of Google and Yahoo. Yahoo tries to be all things to all people, Google simply strives to do one thing well. Google has taken over the world, Yahoo is a lumbering brute in comparison. Most websites fall somewhere in between, but futuristic, progressive, innovative, they ain’t.
Are You Friendly
The Learning and Performance Innovation team at PA take individual pride in their social media profiles. Quite simply, a company that claims to be innovative needs a strong social media presence.
While there may be old hands who still value the ‘Above the Line’ (TV, print advertising etc), social media has proven to be the sticky disruptor. As a business you may understand the benefits of relationships in relation to sales, and yet without social media you’re not having conversations with the world.
Another word of caution with respect to social media, is that it’s not just about “posting a load of tweets” as some more resistant folk may have it. It’s a challenging, highly nuanced activity that requires, strategy, resource and budget to succeed.
You can’t just throw a graduate on this as a side project, it’s a full-time job, potentially, many full-time jobs. If you need an agency to fill the gap until you get your house in order, do it, it’s worth it.
Do you ever get into a lift and see people heading to their offices wearing t-shirts and jeans? Are you jealous of how the comfy cotton and loose fitting trousers must feel against their skin?
You may not be a software company, but then Google isn’t the only company that sanctions a relaxed dress code in the office. For me, dressing down shows a meritocratic culture, where the best ideas can come from anywhere, and people have to accept individuals and their clothes too.
So why do you wear suits in the office? Are you trying to show you are a safe pair of hands? Is innovation the safe option? You can’t have it both ways. You can be professional, articulate and insightful wearing jeans. You can build relationships, challenge your customers constructively and deliver great projects in dungarees.
Suits are another symbol of an old world that has no place if you are truly innovative. You need to be bold, brash and demonstrate through the medium of cloth, that hierarchy is dead and the future is a blending of work and home life.
Innovative companies are characterised by a strong vision and being uncompromising in the pursuit of their purpose. Given my earlier examples, who was/is more single-minded in their pursuit of world changing ideas than Steve Jobs, Larry Page and Elon Musk?
In being who we are, we need to understand who we are not. You cannot therefore, be all things to all people. You should not therefore, be anything you are not when speaking to customers. This means there will be potential business which doesn’t fit with your innovative, visionary approach and style.
Maybe the customer is too risk adverse and won’t let you do your thing, or maybe they want to force you to follow their processes. If so, say no. Show the rest of the world that you have something worth buying and disrupt the industry, and those that turned down your offer of help are going to be kicking themselves as they join the company graveyard with Kodak, BHS and Woolworths.
Those are my observations about innovation. What are your tips? Let’s start a conversation.