Let’s face it: most big companies are bad at innovating. While there are always outliers — Google and Amazon come to mind — innovation at blue chips tends to be the exception, not the rule. What’s more, when innovation at large companies is realized, it’s often achieved by acquiring smaller, nimbler firms rather than via in-house, organic growth.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Here are eight tips on how to get your innovation mojo back.
1. Quantify success.
Too often, companies track success metrics that are too broad for individual contributors — or even teams — to make actionable. Ensure that every single person on your team knows what success means — and understands how their contributions support the company’s overall objectives.
2. Learn with purpose.
Fail fast, learn with purpose and be sure to celebrate failures — so long as they yield insights that can be used to improve your products or services. You may even uncover new opportunities that are bigger than the one at hand — à la Google News or Post-Its. Create a monthly showcase featuring what your team has learned — and communicating the new action items that are being undertaken as a result.
3. Banish ad hoc decision-making.
You don’t need more dashboards, you need better decisions. Put in place a structured process for making decisions — and track the outcome of each business move. This is the only way to make consistently good decisions.
4. Embrace your “quiet geniuses.”
Every company has smart, creative people who either don’t have a voice or who feel excluded from the decision-making process. This goes beyond culture. You need a transparent process to allow the best ideas to rise to the top — and to acknowledge every individual who drives results.
5. Shun knaves.
Popularized by Google’s Jonathan Rosenberg and Eric Schmidt, a knave is a person at your company who doesn’t add value. Example behaviors of a knave range from taking credit for other people’s ideas to leaving a mess in the kitchen. Knaves are innovation inhibitors. Even worse, they can turn non-knaves into under-performers. Shun knaves at every turn.
6. Get out of spreadsheets.
Nearly every job function in the modern economy is too complex to be managed in spreadsheets. While Google Spreadsheets and companies such as Quip are giving the format a breath of fresh air, rows and columns inhibit the types of insights, collaboration and institutional memory required to drive consistently good business decisions. The sooner you can ditch the sheets, the better.
7. Invest in experimentation.
Every company spends R&D dollars. Be the company that goes about this in a deliberate way by investing in experimentation: identify the hypotheses that you’re trying to validate, allocate a reasonable amount of resources to see them through and track what’s gained by the experiment. Don’t go about this half-heartedly — drive toward conclusive insights swiftly and with purpose.
8. Kill comparative losers.
Say you have a product or service that’s winning in the marketplace — it’s just throwing off cash. The usual thing to do? Take the proceeds from this product line and invest in R&D to develop new offerings. That’s not a problem — unless this cash could be used to evolve the existing product line to be even more successful than any of the new products you could build. Put differently, it’s critical to assess every opportunity on a level playing field, and be objective about where the true opportunity lies by killing the comparative losers.