Are there distinct, identifiable traits shared by the world’s most innovative companies? Mary Meehan at Forbes.com draws on established research to draw out her top five traits, and they’re probably not what you expect…
In her opening statement Meehan confirms that good old American confidence alone doesn't seem to foster innovation in the USA: "Innovation gets a lot of lip service, but success remains stubbornly out of reach for many among even our best and brightest companies."
To answer the question "How do successful companies avoid the predictability trap?", Meehan interviewed Uri Neren, commissioned in 2007 to research innovation best practice, and whose research eventually identified 27 common traits amongst companies that innovate successfully. From these, she hand-picks her top five.
1. Getting everyone on the same page
Meehan believes this starts with defining business innovation in terms of the company goals or mission, and she sees this as both engaging and liberating: "Passion for and deep knowledge about the company culture throughout the employee ranks… allowed those organizations to grow without needing top management in on every decision."
2. Repeatable, reliable innovation
At the heart of this trait is what Talkfreely has seen happen time and time again; if you have a structure and a process for innovation management, and commit to it, innovation becomes part of and essential to everything your company does. The emphasis in this blog is on innovation teams, but with a proper system in place, your whole company can become the team.
3. Discover what your customers want
Meehan discusses how many companies spend less time finding out what is required than they do building new solutions or products. It's a point that is well worth bearing in mind for managers when issuing challenges via an innovation management system; have you fully understood the question or the issues? How you phrase the challenge is important too; as Kettering said: ‘A problem well-stated is a problem half solved’. Equally a challenge well stated will also be a challenge half solved!
The old question of rewards for innovation raises much debate, but Meehan quotes Neren's finding that; "Simply assigning innovation to employee scorecards, then rewarding and recognizing them is the opportunity and motivation employees are naturally geared for."
We think it's actually the other way around; recognition is almost more important than reward. Anyone who counts the Likes their latest photo gets on Facebook from their friends understands this; verification of your contribution by your peers and colleagues is a powerful, almost compulsive driver for engagement. Simple reward techniques such as badges, stars, contributor levels and certificates formalise this recognition in the public arena, and encourage others to join in.
5. A Connected Culture
"What matters most is that the culture is connected, so that people have access to one another and their ideas, and that all the contributing parties are recognized and rewarded." We couldn't agree more. When an idea is exposed to the wisdom, experience and creativity of your whole organisation, you are using the greatest innovation resource your company has, human minds.
What makes this article so interesting overall is the significant shift in the perceptions of innovation it contains, compared with similar articles from three or four years ago. There is no mention of bottom lines, of employee engagement programmes, of measurable metrics or even growth. Instead, it gives a tacit endorsement of the recognition of the importance of innovation as part of everyday company culture, while also acknowledging that it's hard work too. It's taken time, but we're getting there!