It’s become a drinking game. Any time a conference keynote speaker says the word “innovation,” you take a sip of beer. And any time he or she declares that a company that isn’t innovative can’t be competitive, you have to down a shot of tequila (lime and salt, optional).
But what’s really required to create an innovation culture? Do digital-first companies like Google—celebrated for its glasses, self-driving cars and other “moonshots” — always have the edge? In my discussions with IT leaders I discovered common qualities that have made innovation thrive at companies like Google, Nordstrom, Johnson & Johnson and Lego.
These companies and others that have excelled at innovation share five common habits:
1: Inclusiveness. The image of the innovation lab as a walled garden, populated by deep thinkers who have relinquished their day jobs in order to well, think deeply, is quickly becoming cliché. The reality is that innovation happens through a loose network of people both inside and outside a company’s four walls. For example, Shell’s GameChanger program encourages employees across divisions to submit new ideas, also inviting participation from partners and external entrepreneurs.
2: Tolerance for conflict. Innovation can be complicated and political. Instead of the quiet think tank most people envision, the innovation lab is complete with aptly-named war-rooms, where people draw on glass walls and argue their own approaches. In the end more than one idea might make it to the proof-of-concept stage, where the battle might continue. Relationships can fray. There can be carnage. The winner is person with the best executable idea. The fact that the unapologetic entrepreneurs thrive in this climate of contention motivates companies to keep investing in it.
3: An understanding of a deeper mission. It’s easy to see why a company like Eli Lilly or JPL would want to formalize innovation. But you don’t need a bevy of scientists in order to fuel an innovation culture. Large-scale improvements and wholesale inventions can deepen customer relationships (Salesforce.com), make people more productive (Apple), and protect people who protect people (USAA). In these cases, innovation has become part of the company’s mission and, by extension, its brand.
4: The ability to sideline internal problems. The more time a company’s leaders spend on organizational issues, product fixes, process improvements, problem employees and politics, the less time they have to set up environment to support innovation. Innovation invites creativity, collaboration, movement, space, materials, and yes, some strife.
5: A knack for spreading the word. Big ideas aren’t enough. Companies need to nurture innovation by applying clear execution processes in order to create new business models or develop new products. Executives at innovative companies include innovation in their communications. They herald innovation successes, encourage employees to support the new product or service, and to join them in proselytizing its value. They need to talk to one another and to customers. Ironically diffusing an innovation both inside and outside of a company’s four walls often works best using analog engagement methods, like face-to-face meetings and live demonstrations.
No, your company doesn’t have to be born digital to cultivate a culture of innovation. You just need to have the discipline to look beyond the immediate horizon. And keep a nice, aged Anejo around just in case.
Jill Dyché has been thinking, writing, and speaking about the interrelationship of strategy, analytics, and data for most of her career. As a management consultant and executive advisor, she’s helped companies through the change that accompanies innovation.
Jill is the author of four books about the business value of technology. Her latest,The New IT, profiles IT leaders who have driven significant transformations at their companies. The book was named one of Inc’s "60 Great Business and Leadership Books Written by Women."
Jill was the co-founder of Baseline Consulting, a data and analytics strategy firm that was acquired by SAS in 2012. Jill now counsels executive teams, managers, and boards of directors on the strategic importance of their technology investments.
Jill is regularly featured as a keynote speaker at prominent industry conferences, university programs and vendor events. Her first book, e-Data, has been published in eight languages. She is the author of The CRM Handbook, a best-seller (and featured in CIO magazine), and Customer Data Integration: Reaching a Single Version of the Truth, featured stories of customer loyalty programs at companies including Royal Bank of Canada, Amgen, Intuit, Ceasars Entertainment, and Overstock.com.
A popular blogger on CIO.com and an advice columnist for TDWI’s UPSIDE, Jill was recently named one of the "12 Most Influential Women in Big Data and Data Science" by Information Week, one of Retail Leader’s "2017 Women to Watch," and by KDNuggets as one of "18 Inspiring Women in AI, Big Data, Data Science and Machine Learning."
Jill sits on the boards of Klearly, a prescriptive intelligence platform for marketers, and Continuum Animal Health. She is also Executive Director of,a href=https://www.outtathecage.org>Outta the Cage, a shelter animal advocacy non-profit. Her recent e-book, "Big Data, One Dog at a Time," argues for the digitization of the animal shelter system. She lives in Los Angeles, where she samples fringe Cabernets, fosters shelter dogs and pens the occasional haiku.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Jill Dyché and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications Inc. or its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.