You’ve fine-tuned your processes, extracted every drop of cost from the system, and are meeting basic customer needs. In the previous era of business, strict managerial controls may have been enough, but today running a tight ship is table stakes. If we’re honest with ourselves, business as usual likely poses an existential threat – sooner than we may think, as the pace of change continues to accelerate.
Relying on a current product, market, cost, or distribution advantage is also a fool’s bet. As competitors level up, your current foothold could soon be tomorrow’s commodity. If we’re not pushing our creative boundaries as standard practice, we run the risk of ceding competitive advantage and losing ground.
The one way to lock in sustainable competitive advantage is to cultivate company-wide innovation. If you have 11,000 employees, you have 11,000 innovators if you create a structure that supports their imagination. The same size team with only six senior leaders given permission to deploy creativity could be a fast sinking ship.
While every innovative culture has their own unique nuances, there are a few common beliefs that are mission critical to building a culture of innovation:
- Let go of the past in favor of the possible.
Realizing that yesterday’s solutions are unlikely to serve the needs of tomorrow’s customers, innovative cultures regularly release past successes in order to seize new ones.
- Ideas are celebrated, not shunned.
Fear is the single biggest blocker of creativity. It’s impossible to fully harness creativity if fear permeates the culture. Instead, environments that worship all ideas – realizing that it takes many bad ones to get to each good one – are the ones that drive profound and sustainable results.
- Experiments and artistry are part of the job.
All organizations issue employees a list of core job responsibilities. But the innovative organizations realize that transactional work is only one part of the job. Inventing the future, discovering fresh approaches, and deploying creative artistry also must be required job responsibilities in order to win with consistency.
- The status quo is not a status symbol.
If anything, refusing to change should be a scarlet letter. The ones who receive promotions and lead the company should be those with bold ideas and provocative thinking that challenges assumptions to seize new opportunities.
- A deep obsession with better serving customers in fresh, new ways.
Squeezing an extra .03% operating margin per unit is fine, but it doesn’t do much to lock in a bright future. In the same way the founders of your company discovered a new and better way to meet customer needs, we must obsess over delivering more value in new, surprising, and unexpected ways.
As leaders, we have a choice. If we stomp out divergent thinking and maximize today’s profits, we seal our fate that our best days are already behind us. Or… we prioritize the building, nurturing, and growing of an innovation culture. When we remove fear and liberate the creative minds of every person on the team, we become unstoppable.