Fostering Innovation in a Fast-Paced World

Consider this: 50 years ago, the life expectancy of a Fortune 500 firm was approximately 75 years. Today, it’s less than 15 years and continues to decline. Eighty-eight percent of the original companies listed have either gone bankrupt, merged or—if they still exist—fallen off the Fortune 500 list. The reason? A failure to keep up with the accelerated rate of innovation required in today’s fast-paced world.

We like to think great innovation is based on magical ideas conjured up by visionary geniuses. At the risk of dashing that fantasy, the reality is simpler. When we break down innovation into its most basic form, we see that it is actually a byproduct of the successful execution of three key business elements:

  • A corporate culture that empowers and unleashes employee innovation
  • A relentless focus on opportunities that have the best return on investment
  • The continuous discipline to manage the things that matter most
Empowering Culture

The most important element dictating whether or not innovation will succeed is company culture. Culture doesn’t mean proclaiming that your company is innovative. Instead, culture is shaped by a mosaic of shared rules, practices and artifacts that are not only expressed in formal ways, like organizational charts, job descriptions and the physical layout of your office, but also in informal ways, like social networks based on personal relationships both inside and outside the office.    

Establishing a culture of innovation means you can point to specific, tangible things within your company that confirm and reinforce innovative practices. To establish a culture that drives innovation, you must start with an understanding that innovation occurs when you are passionate about solving problems for people outside the walls of your company. If you want to cultivate a culture that fosters innovation, you have to start by empowering employees to unleash this passion. 

Unfortunately, while marketing and product teams are often told to be strategic, understand the market and spend time with customers, too often companies don’t practice what they preach. Instead, they are chained to their desks, managing checklists, returning emails and attending meetings.  

In Pragmatic Marketing’s 2017 annual survey of product managers and marketers, more than 3,500 respondents said their corporate cultures are decidedly inward-facing. They reported spending 72 percent of their time on tactical activities and 42 percent of their time in meetings and returning emails. If we believe that the source of innovation is solving customer problems, these statistics don’t support the cultural practices that inspire innovation. 

Worse, there may be a sense that giving the team time to talk to customers or identify new market opportunities is an unaffordable luxury that costs time and money we don’t have to spend. You might hear things like, “We don’t have budget to spend time in the market” or “I can’t really have you take time away from the office.” Then you do something incredibly risky: make stuff up. And the company never stops to think that when it builds products without market knowledge, it is ultimately more expensive and risky than establishing a market-driven culture. 

Establishing a culture of innovation means that you must empower your teams to be market-driven by encouraging them to get outside the office. Encourage them to spend less time on emails and meetings and more time on market interactions. Then set a quantifiable goal. For example, for the next 12 months, target 33 percent of their time for meetings and email and mandate at least 10 percent of their time outside of the office, talking directly to the market. This way, instead of building products based on assumptions, you listen to your customers and prospects and solve their actual problems.

To learn more about how to foster innovation, read the full article by Kirsten Butzow in the Leadership issue of Pragmatic Marketer.


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