The Definition of Insanity – Doing the Same Thing Over and Expecting a Different Result
Apple could not compete against Microsoft. In fact, the Mac was in such bad shape that they actually sold off part of the company to Bill Gates just to get capital to stay afloat. Their founder and C.E.O., Steve Jobs, had left and they could not penetrate the personal computer because Windows was cheaper and more widely sold. When Jobs returned, what was his answer? It was no longer to change the focus of Apple from computers to wireless hand-held devices. The result? The company created their own market where they could dominate. By innovating and doing things differently, Apple has rebounded to the point that they are now larger than Microsoft.
How to Build a Sustainable Competitive Edge
The key to any organization is how they can build a culture that allows ideas to flow and still be able to meet their short-term financial and production goals. For many organizations, it is almost like trying to plan a cross-country trip while stuck on a treadmill. You use a lot of energy to keep moving in place and don’t seem to go anywhere. The key is to allow your greatest resource – your people – to be able to express and build ideas. The question comes, how do you do it? Here are a few quick ideas that you can use to help build a culture that is able to change and innovate.
1. Focus on Practical Innovation
What is practical innovation? It starts with allowing people to think differently. Give people the tools and rewards to think differently. From there you can filter the ideas down and begin to create a strategy. The next step is implementing the strategy and creating a series of measurements to assess whether that strategy is working. As you assess and address problems that arise, you then approach the new issues by once again thinking differently about them.
2. Talent Management Strategy – Move from Loyalty to Commitment
Recognize people for what they have done and their accomplishments and not simply their longevity..Here is a radical thought – give people the tools that they need to find another job! It may seem like a strange idea, but it is the idea of providing outplacement internally. Why? Because so much of career management is based on accomplishments! It is the reason we do behavioral interviews. Past success leads to future success is the philosophy behind behavioral interviewing. By giving people career management tools such as measuring their accomplishments and putting together a resume that reflects what they have done before they leave, you are encouraging people to become engaged and top performers. If you give them the room to succeed so that they are wanted elsewhere, they will stay with you. It is like the old saying goes, if you set them free and they don’t come back to you they were never really yours to begin with. People, whether they want to or not, have to be entrepreneurs and understand that they are C.E.O.s of their own company called ‘Me Inc.’ and the better the product, the greater the rewards.
3. Create a Common Language
The fact is that how people communicate has a direct impact on their ability to innovate. Negatives such as ‘but’ and ‘however’ can quickly stifle both ideas and engagement. By creating a positive, common language, ideas have a good flow and can be created in “real time“. A common language helps not only helps build options but triggers people to create ideas to find solutions and not just stay in a rut.
4. Look at Your Rewards
People respond to how their rewarded. When you promote people who keep their heads low and play it safe, you send the message out to others that this is the way to succeed in the organization is by keeping a low profile. How you reward people includes promotions, bonuses, recognition and even punishments. Empowerment is a type of reward as well. It shows people you trust them and allows them to execute their ideas.
5. Take Care of Your People
If people are stressed or are going through a difficult time, it is very tough to be innovative. Burn out, worry, anxiety all lead to lower performance and thus less ideas. If you want to really engage somebody, give them some space at work to deal with a personal issue. It is amazing that once that crisis passes, how committed they will be to your organization.
6. Encourage Real Diversity
If everybody agrees with everything, there is one opinion too many. Diversity is not about people looking different, it is about people thinking different. Recently they took a survey at a couple of major newspapers and found that over 90% of the people there voted for the same person. The result is that those publications have created a reputation for presenting slanted views and their readership and advertising is so far down that one of them (Newsweek) was recently sold for $1. Look for people with different backgrounds and careers. Maybe instead of somebody with corporate experience, you hire somebody who ran their own business. If you are in high-tech, maybe you look to bring in people from the manufacturing sector. The problem with so many organizations is that they hire people who are ‘like them’, even if they look different. Disagreements, with respect for the other person, can be a good thing. My grandfather, who owned a very successful department store in Missouri, used to say that you should sometimes listen to your enemies because they will tell you things you need to hear and your friends are afraid to say.
7. Clear Communication
Two rules of business 1) if you promise it by Thursday deliver it by Thursday and 2) NEVER promise it by Thursday. Be straight with people and don’t make promises you cannot keep. If things change, tell people. They probably know it already any way. Innovation is very tied to communication. In fact, it is the bedrock of innovation. Straight, respectful communication is a fundamental of innovation.
Part of Your Strategic Plan – Harnessing Your Collective Genius
McDonald’s, as everybody knows, is one of the most successful restaurant chains in the world. There is a story I heard about its founder, Ray Kroc. Kroc, like all of us, had strengths and weaknesses. One of his weaknesses, interestingly enough, was innovation. He was a master at process creation, but what he had difficulty with was coming up with new ideas that could help the company. In the 50’s, there was a problem that McDonald’s was facing. Many of its customers were Catholic and, at that time, a large percentage of Catholics did not eat meat on Friday. The McDonald’s franchisees were demanding that something be created other than hamburgers so that they did not lose this valuable market on Friday. Kroc then created what he called the Hawaiian Burger. It was a grilled piece of pineapple on a bun. It went over like a lead balloon. Fortunately one of Kroc’s gifts was realizing that he did not have all the answers so he threw it back to his franchisees. Somebody suggested instead that they take fish, bread and fry it and introduce that product instead. Thus, the Filet-o-Fish was born and became one of McDonald’s core staples.
The lesson is that no matter how smart or creative you are, no one person can come up with every idea all of the time. Every organization needs to continually utilize the collective genius of their people. It is, in essence, the only truly sustainable, competitive advantage you have to get them through tough times.
Michael Rosenberg is a Principal at OYG Consulting (www.oyginc.com) and the author of The Flexible Thinker and the co-author of The Flexible Thinker: A Guide to Extreme Career Performance and Best Practices of Employee Retention for Thomson-Reuters. His accomplishments in helping organizations solve complex problems and turn around their organizations have been featured in the Globe and Mail, Talent Management and Chief Learning Officer magazine, and H.R. Reporter.