How to make innovation a culture, not a project
In a business world that is always evolving, it is more important than ever that we are constantly learning. Facebook’s initial mantra to developers was to “move fast and break things.” And they certainly did. Since those early days at Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg has updated the motto to the less catchy but more realistic: “move fast with stable infrastructure”. Whether you like the way Facebook innovate or not, this is exactly what we in the tech world need to do. Not just once but constantly.
How to build a culture of innovation
Traditionally innovation has been considered by business as something sporadic, something to look at when business is good and there is spare time to do some ‘blue sky thinking’. Those days are gone. The term ‘disruptor’, synonymous now with companies like Uber and WeWork, has become a regular part of most boardroom conversations. Our strongest competitors and biggest threats are thinking 24/7 about innovation and we should be too.
To do this, we need to start building a culture of innovation. Hire for it, plan for it and reward it. Remember that innovation is not a single moment of genius but an ongoing evolution.
If you want to learn a little more about how the best companies have made ongoing innovation a culture, check out NPR’s Podcast ‘How I Built This’. It is a goldmine of business nuggets.
What is the ROI on innovation?
It is one thing writing or reading a blog about how crucial innovation is to the long-term success of a business. The reality, as ever, can be quite challenging.
The reason innovation has been incidental to most businesses traditionally is because it is perceived as a cost. In the short term it is exactly that – a cost. One less item on the profit sheet and one more on the loss sheet. It can be difficult, especially for businesses facing headwinds, to present these programs to their CEO or board when there is no clear view of a short to medium term profit.
What can we do? Acknowledge it from the outset. A lot of these innovations don’t have an immediate pay off. If you manage purely on cost, you will have a lean and short-term successful company. This has worked traditionally but in today’s world – in the long term, we can be outdone and disrupted by those who risk and innovate.
The Innovation Trough – Managing Expectations
Innovative projects can be a bit like climbing Everest. You set off from basecamp excited, full of hope and energy. Eventually you will make it to the top and plant that flag. However, the part in between basecamp and summit is where the magic happens.
Because innovation programs are purely a cost to start with, this means that things can get scary before they get better. This can lead to disillusionment and fatigue for both customers and staff.
Firstly, set expectations from the start. Sometimes bravery is honesty. The path is filled with challenges and a potential storm is always around the corner. Companies like Amazon didn’t parachute to the summit – they innovated.
Search for early wins to stay positive and set a clear roadmap with milestones so you are always striving to achieve the next goal. The team that conquers Everest together will be ready to take on the world.
How do we set up our teams to be innovative?
Make them agile! Not every innovator needs to wear a black turtle neck sweater. As leaders, we need to remove the roadblocks to allow our dev teams to build, test, fail and launch successfully.
If you want proof that all of the above points are fiction and not science-fiction, have a look at these stats shared at the Gartner Symposium this year:
- Google re-factors applications by 50% every month.
- Amazon releases a new version every 11.6 seconds
- Netflix makes 5 billion internal API calls per day
We may not all have the team and budgets of these big players, but this is not necessarily a disadvantage. Smaller companies can be nimble and pivot quickly to keep up and even disrupt any industry.
Empower your teams
At AlreadyBuilt, we do our best to follow these guidelines daily to drive us forward as market leaders in the software sharing community.
Remember that your strongest competitors and biggest threats are thinking 24/7 about innovation. By empowering teams to move fast (with stable infrastructure), they too will evolve as innovators and do some of their own disrupting.