Creating a Culture of Innovation
In early November, I got the opportunity to attend the opening plenary session of the World Entrepreneurship Forum Singapore 2011. Held at the Shangri-La Hotel, the theme for the event was ‘Entrepreneurship – A Driver for Innovation and Technology”. Some of the keynote speakers included Dr. Ray O’Johnson Senior Vice President & Chief Technology Officer, Lockheed Martin Corporation; Ho Kwon Ping is Founder & Chairman, Banyan Tree Resorts, Singapore, Professor Su Guaning President Emeritus, Nanyang Technological University.
If I were to summarize their advice to entrepreneurs, it would be to promote innovation and create a culture of innovation in your business. The recipient of the 2005 Entrepreneurship Award by the London Business School, Ho Kwon Ping mentioned that ‘even though innovation is a game-changer, innovation does not necessarily fall from the sky. Innovation comes from problems people have experienced and it is a response to those real problems.
I recall Theodore Levitt’s description about innovation that it is the combination of creativity and action that leads to innovation. Hence having good ideas is not enough, but taking action and converting those ideas into a physical product, service or strategy is what innovation is all about.
Ho shares the story of a plumber based in the UK who identified that many people faced a problem of finding a plumber quickly and started an insurance-styled business where people paid a premium each month and if they were to face any plumbing problems, they can expect to have a plumber over in a matter of hours.
Innovation should never be stagnant, for Innovative ideas are only strategic until the copycats arrive. Remember the Sony walkman? It revolutionised an entire industry until Apple came up with the iPod. Like Steve Jobs of Apple, Akio Morita was the innovative force behind Sony, but the company’s innovation died with his passing.
A thought to reflect: Can your business be innovative without you?
It is important that business owners and leaders build a strong culture of innovation before they leave the company. – and like Akio Morita, the question now being highlighted about Apple after the passing of Steve Jobs, is wether or not Apple can continue its innovative spirit.
So how do we create a culture of innovation?
Disconnect from technology. – Professor Su Guaning shared that executives from Google, Apple and Microsoft send their children to schools without computers. (e.g. Waldorf Schools). Being disconnected from technology helps children develop interdisciplinary skills like learning, critical thinking and development. It also helps to boost their creative side.
Support innovation, not managed it. It does not have to follow any form of non-systematic in progression. Supporting innovation means allowing room for mistakes and use meaningful rewards to encourage employees, business partners and even yourself to be innovative. Remember, many innovations and discoveries are the by-product of mistakes.
Enhance innovation under limited resources. Sometimes having limited resources forces us to think of creative ways to overcome challenges or seize opportunities. At the Nayang Technological University an event called a ‘Hackathon’ is held every year where under limited resources, different individuals or teams come together, exercising their programming prowess to collaborate and create working solutions to an industry problem within closed doors in 24 hours.
Involve people in the innovation process. Ask people in your business to share their thoughts and ideas on how to take your business forward. They may see or highlight troubled areas in your business and be able to come up with innovative solutions or creative ideas. Getting them involved will get them to be more supportive when you decide to put those ideas into action.