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INNOVATE

Can You Innovate Too Much?

Google has quietly reduced resources for innovation. Prudent move or short-sighted? Here, Inc. columnists offer advice on finding the right amount of experimentation for your business.
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Not every company or department needs to constantly focus on innovation. At some point, you might find that you need to slow down experimentation so you can capitalize on the initial results. That theory may be behind Larry Page's shift in priority as Google quietly phased out their 20% policy and Google labs.

Given the state of constant disruption in today's economy, teams need to find the right blend of innovation and repetitive business practices. But there is no set formula or methodology that works for everyone. The key is to integrate experimentation into your culture with resources and time allowed for acceptable failure. Then establish specified methods of feedback. That way people can try, fail and learn about any process in the company or marketplace at any time as the market demands.

Here are more insights from my expert colleagues:

1. Give Innovation Its Own Home

When companies like Google get to a certain size, it becomes impossible to act or think like a start-up. It takes a different leadership team and organizational approach to keep an enterprise that size running. Experimentation and innovation are limited to refining processes and making incremental improvements. The best way to encourage true experimentation and innovation is to separate it from the rest of the organization. Give new ideas an opportunity to flourish without the bounds of politics, red tape and organizational complexity. Once an idea shows it will succeed, work to bring it back into the larger organization. Eric Holtzclaw--Lean Forward

Want to read more from Eric? Click here.

2. Establish Predictable Methods

When it launched Gmail, Google was a private company with roughly 5,000 employees. Today, it has nine times the headcount, plus a high-flying stock price. Poorly timed movies notwithstanding, Google is now the establishment, and as Jon Burgstone and I wrote in Breakthrough Entrepreneurship, bigger organizations almost always innovate less. Why? Because their stakeholders come to value stability, not risk. Google won't stop innovating, but it will do so in more predictable, stable ways, including acquiring other companies (as it has done with many of its most important products). Bill Murphy Jr.--DC Bill

Want to read more from Bill? Click here.

3. Integrate the Process

Google's eliminating the 20% policy has nothing to do with innovation or with a change in their business practices. First, the 20% time was entirely about new "blue sky" ideas and inventions. You specifically couldn't work on anything having to do with your regular work. Since true innovation is all about continual, iterative and incremental improvements in productivity and cost savings in existing business processes, giving the dreamers less time off won't matter much. Second, innovation is a full-time and fundamental business practice as important as any other. It's not a sometime thing or a department. It's not someone's job--it's everyone's job to be thinking about how to work better and smarter with less time, fewer resources and better results. Howard Tullman--The Perspiration Principles

Want to read more from Howard? Click here.

4. Have a Set Formula

Every company needs a balance of steady growth in existing markets and technology along with new, innovative solutions. Google is simply shifting gears to a new strategy: growth and innovation through acquisition. For growing companies, it's wise to follow the 80/20 rule: allocate 80% of your resources to existing practices and 20% to innovation. Microsoft appears to follow this formula by continually advancing existing technology and less frequently releasing new technology. Their most recent advancement is the integration of Skype and Outlook, allowing people to use Skype video calling and messaging directly from e-mail: an innovative solution via an existing platform. Marla Tabaka--The Successful Soloist

Want to read more from Marla? Click here.

5. Encourage Autonomy

While some companies like Google may be phasing out open-ended innovation programs with no measurable bottom-line result, innovation is definitely not becoming a low priority in American business. More leaders than ever are pushing their people to innovate to work, and to find powerful new solutions to persistent problems. One of the most effective--and most affordable--ways to spur innovation in your organization is to create a culture of innovation. Give your people the autonomy--and the responsibility--to pursue new ideas and to try them out. Support risk taking rather than punishing it. Don't wait for your organization to create a culture of innovation--create your own. Peter Economy--The Management Guy

Want to read more from Peter? Click here

6. Innovate or Die

In today's fast-changing market and even faster-changing communications landscape, innovation is essential. It can be challenging for high-growth and larger businesses to dedicate resources to innovation. But the only constant is change, so it really is "innovate or die." Try these seven steps to creating a culture of innovation.  Dave Kerpen--Likeable Leadership

Want to read more from Dave? Click here.

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Last updated: Aug 21, 2013

KEVIN DAUM | Columnist

An Inc. 500 entrepreneur with a more than $1 billion sales and marketing track record, Kevin Daum is the best-selling author of Video Marketing for Dummies and the executive producer of Amilya! on 77WABC New York. Sign up here and never miss out on Kevin's thoughts and humor.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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