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Can you innovate?
It a strange question. Isn’t it astonishing how many people say “I am not creative” or believe “innovators” are so much different from themselves. As if innovators are an enlightened lot of geniuses that come up with breakthrough innovations that nobody else could have thought of or made happen but them. Icons such as Steve Jobs (Apple), Elon Musk (Tesla) or Jeff Bezos (Amazon) stand out. They apparently think differently and changed the world.
The question for the rest of us is: could I be a Steve Jobs too? Or do have to be born gifted to be able to innovate in ways that “make a ding in the universe” like Steve Jobs?
You can learn creativity!
If you ask kids in kindergarten or preschool if they are creative, they enthusiastically respond “Yes!” At that age we are convinced we are creative and express our views, thoughts and ideas in many ways. We design rockets to Mars or create new animals, nothing is out of bounds or out of reach.
What has happened to us that we believe as grown-ups and employees we can no longer create and change the world? I heard “I could never do that” and “nothing will change anyway” too many times.
Good news is that genetic predisposition only attributes one-third to your creativity and innovative-ness (if this is a word), while two-thirds are skills that can be learned, as research confirmed many times over (see Marvin Reznikoff et al, Creative abilities in identical and fraternal twins, Behavior Genetics 3, no. 4, 1973).
Therefore, innovation can be taught, “nurture trumps nature.” So, you can learn it too!
Are you an intrapreneur or entrepreneur?
However, not everyone wants to take the risk and uncertainty to make an entrepreneurial dream come true by starting a new business on their own. Many of us work in large organizations and would like to improve the company from within somehow.
This is where intrapreneuring comes into play. Intrapreneurs are also called corporate entrepreneurs, since they apply entrepreneurial methods within the organization to create intraprises. (See also The Rise of the Intrapreneur)
What innovators have in common
So is there anything that great innovators share and which we ‘mortals’ can replicate or do similarly to succeed? – In fact, there is!
In his iconic book “The Innovator’s DNA,” famous disruptive innovation guru Clayton Christensen (who is also known for coining the term ‘disruptive innovation’) identified four common catalysts that sparked the great ideas:
- “a question that challenged the status quo,
- an observation of a technology, company, or customer,
- an experience or experiment where he was trying out something new,
- a conversation with someone who alerted him to an important piece of knowledge or opportunity”
This comes down to the four following behaviors, as Christensen found out: questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting.
While, typically, the underlying information is not unique, the innovator’s associative thinking combines information and connects dots that seem random or unrelated to others. They create a picture or vision of a need or opportunity to pursue.
Now, on your way to become an intrapreneur (or entrepreneur), how can you get to these insights, find a suitable target and make it happen?
There are two basic steps:
- Don’t work alone
- Seek a fertile environment.
1. Don’t work alone
An African proverb says “If you want to walk fast, walk alone; but if you want to walk far, walk together”. Developing and bringing a disruptive idea to life takes time, work and -more than anything- collaboration. It’s not a fast shot and you will need help. What you can do is tapping into more brains: ask others and bring together a diverse team around an idea. You want to get as many different perspectives to see the fuller picture, risks, needs, opportunities to tackle the problem you are working on.
You may be blindsided or unaware of things critical for your success including much needed political cover, validating your assumptions or technical aspects outside your expertise. If you try to do everything yourself, you are setting yourself up for failure for a simple reason: you are not an expert in everything! Stick with what you are good at and let other experts help you with what they are good at.
2. Seek a fertile environment
If you want to start your own business as an entrepreneur, you may want to move where you find the best condition for a supportive business environment, an ecosystem. For entrepreneurs, for example, Stanford University and Silicon Valley remain a major tech magnets with ample and easy access to top talent and money. Also accelerators can serve this purpose. Comparable conditions for an innovative ecosystem exist at the US-East coast in the Boston area. Depending on your business idea, other locations and ecosystems may be more suitable – do your homework and find the right one for you.
As an intrapreneur, your available ecosystem seems more limited: it typically is the company you work in that defines the perimeter of your freedom to navigate. Your advantage here can be that you already know the environment and who could be supporting or funding your idea. If not your, you could more easily ask colleagues for help than people outside your company could, which significantly lowers the bar for access to resources.
Let’s continue by focusing on intrapreneuring. Compared to the entrepreneurial world out there, within an organization you may have more opportunities to help shape the fertile ecosystem for breakthrough ideas if none exists yet.
Now, if you are stuck with a company that does not provide an environment that supports intrapreneuring, you may consider becoming the innovation leader (see How to become the strategic innovation leader? (part 2 of 3)) to build an ecosystem within a large organization.
– Stay tune to find out how.
Open offices are not a new invention. They have been around for a long time as hallmark of start-up companies that simply cannot afford glitzy corporate skyscrapers with plush corner offices (yet). Open offices emerged less by deliberate design than driven by need.
Start-ups typically run on a vibrant culture of passionate people wanting to spend time together to create something great, everyone works together closely in the tight space available. Information flows fast and freely. Recreational elements and other services offered remove the need or motivation to leave. Employees hang out to work maximum hours as a team in a fun, inspiring and supportive environment. Productivity is up and work gets done.
Large companies are attracted by this powerful value-proposition for open offices – or so it seems. Mature organizations struggle with their increasing size that, over time, entails increasing specialization and complexity with a stifling system of red tape and inertia.
While jobs are large in small companies and come with broad scope and high accountability, which are diluted when jobs narrow in large companies by increased specialization over time. Functional silos emerge and sub-optimize often to the detriment of other business functions.
This siloed corporate world only contributes to a climate that works against diverse collaboration and inhibits breakthrough innovations; and business results degrade from 10x to 10%. (See also 10x vs 10% – Are you still ready for breakthrough innovation?)
Cutting costs is a questionable driver
The reasons for large organizations moving to an open floor plan are often glorified and communicated as a measure to increase creativity and productivity in an appealing modern working environment: employees connect casually and spontaneously at the ‘water cooler’ to network and innovate together again.
The true and paramount driver for tearing down the office walls, however, is often more sobering: it comes down to simply cutting costs by reducing the expensive office footprint. Fitting more people into less space comes at a price for the workforce.
Cost savings only get you so far. It’s an easy approach but not a sustainable business model for productivity. What do you really save if productivity goes down? How sustainable is your business then? Sacrificing productivity for cost savings is a narrow-minded approach lacking long-term perspective and, therefore, not worth it. That is unless your goal is to achieve short-term gains without consideration for the future of the business, which is a disqualifying business perspective altogether.
The popular phenomenon in large companies is a move for the wrong reasons (the better driver being increased productivity) and entails serious consequences that jeopardize the company’s productivity, workforce satisfaction, and even the bottom line.
It gets even worse when the new environment is retrofitted space with structural limitations, founded in the legacy of existing buildings and investments, and if no flanking measures taken to enable effective collaboration needs.
A design from scratch has the potential support the collaboration needs and flow of the workforce best. This is an advantage start-ups have when they can shape and rearrange loft space to their immediate needs without limitations carried forward.
Controlling cost is necessary and reducing office footprint is an effective business measure. Aetna, for example, has nearly half of their 35,000 employees working from home already, which saves ~15% to 25% on real estate costs – that’s about $80 million saving per year.
Do not get me wrong, there are undeniable benefits to open office spaces – when applied for the right reasons in the right context, with right priorities and proper execution. The point I am making is that cost reduction alone is not a worthwhile driver if it sacrifices productivity. There comes a point where a hard decision has to be made and if you prioritize cost savings, you sacrifice productivity and other aspects automatically.
What does it take?
Unfortunately, the start-up company model with open office space and its agile and enthusiastic does not scale for large organizations. The corporate one-size-fits-all approach does not do the trick for several reasons.
Let us look at aspects that make the open office work:
- Tear down cost center walls
- Make presence easy
- Level the (remote) playing field
- Embrace work style differences
1. Tear down cost center walls
Proximity favors who needs to work together closely. In a start-up company, staff is few and jobs are big. This ratio flips in large organizations where many employees work in highly specialized functions. With increasing specialization comes complexity that leads to functional silos. The employees become separated by every rising departmental and organizational walls.
In large organizations, work space is typically paid for by department and charged to cost centers. Staff gets corralled this way and kept separated in functional clusters that are easier to administer but counteract productivity, streamlined workflow, and diverse collaboration cross-functionally. After all, it wouldn’t make sense to have any department operating completely independent from the rest of the organization.
These artificial and structural boundaries make no sense (unless you are an accountant, perhaps). Therefore, trade the urge for financial micro-management for what makes the workforce more productive, as this is the most important aspect of collaboration and, ultimately, the bottom line.
2. Make presence easy
Make it easy for your employees to go the extra mile. Now here is where large companies can learn from how start-ups: offer incentives for employees to hang out and remove reasons for them to leave to maximize time to work and collaborate.
The list seems endless: free beverages and food, services such as laundry, hair dresser, spa or receiving deliveries, exercise equipment, healthy snacks, child and pet care, and other useful perks that cost-cutting companies often omit.
Sounds like a waste to many large companies. But is it really? You get more out of your employees’ carefree working along longer than by pinching the free coffee and have them leave during the day or early to run their necessary errands.
3. Level the (remote) playing field
It may sound counter-intuitive but when cost saving rules, the open office space often only works when not all employees are around at the same time. If all employees showed up on the same day there may not be enough room and resources (seating, access to power and networks, etc.) to fit and accommodate everyone, since the physical office footprint is now too small ‑ a Catch-22.
When only a subset of employees can be present in the office at any given workday, the rest has to work remotely forming an –at least- virtual organization. Consequently, the random personal connection “at the water cooler” becomes less likely as does spontaneous cooperation by “pulling together a team” since your pool of physically available staff is limited.
Management needs to take deliberate and determined measures to level the playing field for remote workers by giving them the same opportunities as colleagues present in the office. Why? “Out of sight, out of mind” is a powerful and human nature. If not managed effectively, it only becomes worse when remote staff easily is continuously overlooked when it comes to projects staffing, development opportunities and promotions, for example. The resulting inequities undermine workforce cohesion, effectiveness, and talent development.
Read more on virtual teams at Why virtual teams fail, and how to make them work (part 1) and How to make virtual teams work! (part 2).
4. Embrace work style differences
There are too many individual work styles to list them all – for example, just think of
- Generational differences and preferences (see also Generation Y for managers – better than their reputation?) or
- Introverts vs extroverts (see also Why virtual teams fail, and how to make them work (part 1) and Boost ‘Group Intelligence’ for better decisions!)
FastCompany recently came up with a list of reasons by workers arguing against open offices, which is a good indicator where the pain-points are. Representative or not, the list tends to resonate with people that experienced first-hand working in a corporate open office environment.
The key complaints are about
- Distraction – hard to concentrate with surrounding noises of all sort; loud speaking coworkers; interruptions of coworkers stopping by at any given time
- Discomfort – no privacy; by-passers looking at your screen and documents; food, bodily and other odors; white-noise generators blamed for headaches; spreading contagious illnesses; having to talk to people when you don’t feel like it; “hiding” by wearing earphones
- Workflow obstacles – competing over quiet spaces, conference rooms or other rare resources; no place to store personal items or personalize the space.
One size does not fit all and it does not do the trick for large companies, in particular. So if you have to downsize office space or accommodate more employees, take a sound and sustainable approach by making productivity the driving priority and not cost.
After all, we are human beings that work best when we have control over our work environment and schedule. When we perform at our best, it is also for the better of the company as a whole. Flexibility, empowerment and inclusion go a long way – otherwise, mind FastCompany’s warning: “What was supposed to be the ultimate space for collaboration and office culture was having the opposite effect” – also for the bottom line.
Download your Kindle copy of Gifford Pinchot‘s “INTRAPRENEURING Why you don’t have to leave the corporation to become an entrepreneur” from Amazon for free on Oct 34 & 24th!
HULT Innovation Olympics Speaker Bios
Our previous sponsors will share lessons learned as well as real world experiences from their participation in the Innovation Olympics.
Please join us on Wednesday, October 16th at 4 p.m. EDT for a dialogue with a rare gathering of executives from Verizon, Iron Mountain, Boehringer Ingelheim and Natura. They will share their experiences in deploying student competitions, like the Hult Innovation Olympics, to jump-start innovation initiatives inside their organizations.
Ronald Jonash, Professor, Hult International Business School and
Senior Partner, IXL Center for Innovation, Excellence and Leadership
Ron is currently a senior partner at the IXL Center. He is on the faculty of the Hult International Business School, a partner at a venture capital firm, and on the Advisory board of Arthur D. Little. He was a senior partner of the Monitor Group where he founded and led their Innovation practice and was founder of IMI (Innovation Management Inc.). For 20 years he was the managing director of the Technology and Innovation Management Practice for Arthur D. Little worldwide. He was also Chief Innovation Officer and served on their Technology Investment Board and Management Education Institute Board.
Ron’s specialties are the strategic management of innovation, technology and R&D to create and capture maximum value. With degrees in Economics and Engineering Systems from Princeton University where he also received his Master’s Degree in Architecture and Design, he has led numerous executive leadership and development programs at major companies and has been a visiting lecturer at Rice, Wharton and Columbia universities and the Hult International Business School.
Managing Principal, Global Strategy and Innovation Group at Verizon Business
While his original background is Mechanical Engineering, Jose’s experience in consulting, business development, project management, research, and financial analysis has served him well in his role as Managing Principal at Verizon Business. Jose has fluently combined the aforementioned talents to design the road-map and strategies required to identify and organically build out the next generation of innovative products and services. At the same time, he also builds out the business by investing, negotiating, and executing on multimillion dollar contracts and strategic external partnerships.
Among Jose´s biggest achievements is to be the Co-founder of the Hult Global Case Challenge (recently re-branded Hult Prize), a student competition with the aim of solving global problems through business. Today the Hult Global Case Challenge is one of the most prestigious case competitions in the world.
Former Director, Ideation and Market Strategy at Iron Mountain
Geoff Nesnow is a passionate evangelist, coach, inventor and transformation catalyst. His “outside-the-box” thinking, no-nonsense style and ability to ask the right questions have served as the catalyst for breakthrough innovation and disruptive technology initiatives, driving revenue and building platforms for future growth. Geoff Nesnow is best known as a “builder” − of products, processes, people, new ventures, and customer/client relationships.
At Iron Mountain, Geoff built an innovation platform and processes that lead to the identification of more than100 potential growth opportunities, built business plans and obtained funding for over 20 new ventures, of which 8 are currently in development or in the market, representing over $1B in defined opportunity, $40M in investment and more than $30M in fast-growing revenue.
Director of Global Innovation Management at Boehringer Ingelheim
Stephan Klaschka is an awarded innovation intrapreneur, entrepreneur and executive consultant with over 20 years of international work and management experience in Europe, Asia-Pacific and the Americas. Throughout his international career, he founded several businesses as an entrepreneur and worked as a consultant to academia, government and international pharmaceutical firms.
Stephan currently serves as a Director of Innovation Management at Boehringer Ingelheim, a privately held FORTUNE Global 500 company, where he built external academic and cross-disciplinary networks including a successful innovation lab and incubator. Under his leadership, the innovation project portfolio continuously returns a high multi-million ROI. He successfully scouts emerging technologies and develops disruptive value-adding services as well as new business models for Boehringer Ingelheim worldwide.
US Innovation Center Manager at Natura
Romulo has dedicated several years of his career in the packaged-goods industries, having worked for top companies such as Avon, Unilever and for the last 7 years, working for Natura (the market leader in Brazil to the beauty sector and considered the 10th most innovative company in the world by Forbes – 2013).
While at Natura, he established an Innovation operation in the Boston Area and he is currently the Innovation Hub manager at this office. In this role, he leverages both his technical and managerial expertise, allowing him to amass and contribute new ideas and new perspectives to both Natura and his innovation management career.
futurethink spoke with Stephan Klaschka, Director of Global Innovation Management at Boehringer Ingelheim, who is responsible for encouraging disruptive innovation within the firm. He spoke about creating “intrapreneurs” in large organizations by instilling an entrepreneurial mindset into employees and ways to use partnerships to get to new ideas.