Editor’s note: this is a guest post by Steve Glaveski.
“Move fast and break things.”
This was the mantra of Facebook in its early days, as is the case with most startups that subscribe to the iterative product development method popularized by the Lean Startup.
However, a startup’s primary job is to discover new sustainable business models, unlike large organizations which are built to deliver existing business models that already make money.
Unfortunately for the latter, standing still is not an option. One in three publicly listed companies is at risk of being delisted in the next five years alone. Such is the pace of change and disruption driven by technological and business model innovation.
Simply donning hooded jumpers, setting up a table tennis table, and throwing some bean bags about the office — while fun — isn’t going to do anything to shift the underlying values and culture that ultimately impede innovation.
So, how do large organizations go about building an innovation culture without compromising the core business which, after all, currently generates the majority of revenues?
First, we need to give our people an opportunity and safety to step out of the traditional corporate mindset, one which avoids failure at all costs. If we only ever take safe bets, we will only ever invest in safe, incremental innovations which are easily replicable and generally don’t serve to radically grow revenues of create a defensible position.
What is the worst possible outcome we are willing to accept? Once you know the answer then your employees are free to work within these boundaries. At the moment this is not being articulated in most organizations and risk is still a dirty word.
Taking lots of small bets, as opposed to few large ones, supports:
- Learning through failure
- Incremental learning
- Identifying opportunities that would have otherwise remained invisible
This ultimately helps to identify solutions worth building but also helps to embed a critical entrepreneurial trait into the psyche of employees, one that mitigates risk by doing, as opposed to analyzing the past — which is rarely a strong indication of the future, especially not in today’s turbulent landscape.
While traditional product development methodologies — such as stage gate and waterfall — play an important role in product development, they are best used when there are few unknowns. Only under such circumstances can we have greater certainty over what we’re building, who the customer is, how much it’ll cost, how long it’ll take and so on.
If we put a certainty lens on inherently uncertain projects, in order to get our business case signed off, then we are destined to do one thing. Deliver what generates little value on time and on budget.
Applying a waterfall lens on projects that have too many question marks associated with them is a major reason why projects implemented using waterfall fail to deliver benefit 66% of the time. Not enough focus on the customer job, the value proposition and too much insular thinking are causes for this. We need to, in the words of Steve Blank, get out of the building from day one.
Building on a mindset that concedes we don’t have all the answers, our employees can learn how to better identify and test problems and solutions using methodologies such as the human-centered design process and the lean startup. As opposed to committing several years and X millions of dollars to building the wrong thing that serves little benefits realization, as is the case with many ‘transformational’ projects, we can teach our employees the value of moving and iterating quickly.
Design thinking and lean startup workshops are easy ways to help plant entrepreneurial thinking in people’s minds and the very nature of learning by doing will serve to retain those learnings. Not only that, but the short term nature of these courses increases the likelihood that people can get away from their job to take part, especially important for senior stakeholders. The alternative is to keep investing valuable training dollars in vanilla certifications that have employees competing on how many mints they’ve eaten in order to stay awake.
Idea contests and hackathons (or innovation bootcamps) are a great way to encourage cross-functional employees from across the organisation to share challenges, opportunities and ideas that they come across in their day to day, often left untapped. This increases employee engagement and gives them a creative outlet and ownership over the company’s investment in innovation.
About the Author
Steve Glaveski is an innovation consultant, keynote speaker, author, blogger and podcast host. He is currently the co-founder of Collective Campus, an innovation hub, school and consultancy based in Melbourne, Australia that works with organisations of all sizes to help them adopt the mindset, methodologies and tools to successfully explore new business models and disruptive innovation in an era of rapid change.