Does Innovation Make a Company Innovative?

January 18, 2018

by Carla Johnson

I have a client that’s proud of his new innovation center.

It’s well thought out. He’s hired the best-of-the-best across the board. Design thinking is core to their innovation discipline. They bring customers in for focus groups and collaborate on product development.

He’s able to deliver products that solve problems in the marketplace. But he says they still struggle with innovation.

“It’s like we’re trying to run in quicksand,” he points out.

It turns out, this isn’t unusual.

A CapGemini report called The Discipline of Innovation, looked at the growth of innovation labs around the world during a six-month period. Interestingly, 87 percent of these billion-dollar companies said they have an innovation lab.

However, they’re not getting more innovative.

In fact, a mere 17 percent carried out innovation beyond their innovation centers.

Why isn’t the enthusiasm for innovation going beyond the walls of these dedicated spaces?

Companies that innovate

This is where we come back to my client.

His company has fallen victim to the lure of innovation just like many others. They want to stand out. They want to lead their industries. They want to be customer-focused and first to market. But despite the major investment of time and reputation in a very public initiative, he still struggles.

Here’s what’s happening.

Companies that focus on innovation look at how they can better serve customers in new and alluring ways. They create dedicated spaces for a unique team and equip them with the best equipment. This is the group that walks with a swagger, is perceived as the elite solution to market competition by the C-suite, and deemed ‘untouchable’ by the rest of the organization.  It’s the latest enhancements to, and elements of, what they sell that fuels them. But the problem is that they make innovation a spectacle, rather than a strategy. It creates an “us” and “them” culture that divides people. It makes one group appear elite and entitled and the other common and dispensable.

When you talk to people outside of the innovation group about their role, they’ll tell you they don’t have one. Their belief comes down to one or two reasons. Either I’m not smart enough – those people have PhD, are data scientists, anthropologists, engineers, researchers, etc. – or worse yet, “that’s not my job.”

These organizations see the innovation group as what drives the business. There’s a clear line of demarcation between who innovates and who doesn’t. Executives and boards of directors expect this to be the path to increasing market share and revenue.

These companies believe innovation is something you do.

Innovative companies

I contrast this organizational personality with another group with whom I’m starting to work.

They brought me in because they want everyone within their organization to understand the CEO’s vision for innovation. And then contribute to it.

They have a group with a core responsibility of innovation but the walls are low and the ideas freely overflow into the rest of the company.

Innovative companies believe that innovation goes beyond a great product and into the overall experience someone has with them. If you deliver a “market-leading, mission-critical solution” yet are so complicated to do business with, and customers rue the day they met you, you’re not innovative.

The culture of innovative companies is that great ideas can come from anyone. And the more that every employee in the business knows the vision and the strategy, the more they can contribute in their own way. That doesn’t mean they’re a part of product research and development, but they’re fully capable of having ideas of how to do their work better, how to collaborate more effectively and of understanding that they’re expected to come up with new ideas.

Innovative companies understand that the accounting team isn’t going to hire a Ph.D. and an anthropologist to spend time creating a “day in the life” profile of one of their customers. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be expected to bring new ideas to the table about how to simplify the process of what they do or how to work with them.

These brands know that the biggest barrier to true innovation is culture. Without an ecosystem that embraces new ideas from everyone, they’ll never grow into mature innovators.

These companies believe innovative is something you are.

Therein lies the significant difference between those companies that carry out innovation beyond their innovation centers. They teach people what great ideas look like, then encourage and expect them from everyone in their organization. They know that if employees aren’t showing up in the doorway of their boss’s office eager to pitch a new idea, then they aren’t doing it right.

Here’s my question for you. Are you on a quest to be a company that innovates or do you want to become an innovative company?

Are you interested in learning how you can teach employees to come up with great business ideas and then pitch them? Contact me and let’s talk about how we can help. You can also follow me on LinkedIn, and  Twitter, and if you like what you see, Subscribe here for regular updates.

Photo credit: eXtension Foundation

About Carla Johnson

Carla Johnson is a world-renowned storyteller, an entertaining speaker, and a prolific author.

Over the last two decades, Carla has helped architects and actuaries, executives and volunteers, innovators and visionaries leverage the art of storytelling to inspire action. Her work with Fortune 500 brands hasn’t gone unnoticed and the latest of her seven books, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketingsets the benchmark for a new era in marketing. Named one of the top 50 women in marketing and the chair of the ANA’s Business Marketing Association, Carla regularly challenges conventional thinking.

Today, Carla travels the world teaching anyone (and everyone) how to cultivate idea-driven teams that breed unstoppable creativity and game-changing innovation.