Thursday, May 8, 2008

Why do people find innovation so difficult?

Maybe it's because I'm attuned to it, but it feels like there is more and more being written in the business press about design and innovation. Business Week just did a profile on innovative companies, and this week spoke to Eric Shmidt about innovating at Google.

The last section of that interview sums up my thoughts lately about innovation. After Eric has talked about some of their principals, like listening to employees, allowing employees to spend 20% of their time on personal projects (and how it's policed, to make sure managers don't override it), the interviewer asks "Simple, no?". To which Eric replies, "But not often practiced"

Innovation takes courage.

Everyone reads the same articles and books about innovation and design. So why isn't everyone churning out great products? Because most people pay it lip service. They have a hard time putting a value on doing things like letting employees spend 20% of their time on personal projects, and they chicken out.

Take Proctor and Gamble. To fuel their growth, and to keep their product pipeline full of new compelling products, they set out to get as many as half of their products from external sources. Sounds easy, but P&G is known worldwide as an R&D leader. Do you consider yourself strong in R&D? Imagine the internal conflict in your company if someone said "you know, 5 years from now, I'd like us to be getting 50% of our new products from outside the company - maybe even from competitors". I'm told that even today at P&G, it's still tough, and they have internal debates about whether it would be better to develop something internally vs. going outside, but they don't falter.

Take IDEO. They are known as one of the best innovators on the planet. In fact, Fortune 500 companies hire IDEO to help get them get "unstuck". IDEO lets their employees structure their own workspaces as they need to to suit a project. Most companies would see this as chaos. IDEO spends time thinking about how to create workspaces that stimulate creativity. Most companies would think this is a waste of time. They encourage fun and play at work. Some companies would fire you for that.

So you see, innovation takes courage. Or to quote one of my favorite movies of all time, Glengarry Glen Ross, "You know what it takes? It takes brass..." Never mind...

No comments: