"Competition breeds innovation."
– Samir Shah, iPhone software developer
Inspiring productive innovation is a challenge for any owner or manager.
- First are the vested interests who never heard a new idea they liked.
- They are followed closely by the NIH crowd (not invented here) – we didn’t think of it so it can’t be any good.
- Finally, bringing up the rear is the yes but gang – “yes, that’s a good idea, but...[it will cost too much / we’ve tried that before / we can’t do it / we don’t have time and do our regular jobs / we would need to hire a consultant to do that / etc.]”
Inspiring and fostering productive innovation requires:
- Challenging people to produce their best work. Competitions, games and prizes are a great way to start. They get people’s juices flowing; they create excitement; and more importantly they provide psychic rewards (recognition, etc). Beating a competing company to a new idea, product, or service works even better.
- Incubating new ideas outside of the work mainstream. Skunk works are the classic example of sequestering a new product development team away from the company’s main business. Small, separate work teams can provide similar benefits in evaluating and developing new ideas as long as the team is independent and protected from the pressures of the vested interests, NIH crowd, and the yes but gang.
- Owner/senior management sponsorship and support. One of senior management’s most important roles is the allocation of the firm’s available capital. Only the best ideas should be funded which pre-supposes that the best ideas have in fact been identified and properly vetted.
Long-term success requires continuous world-class innovation. Anything less usually produces one-trick ponies and also-rans. Which would you like to be?