It’s taken for granted that young technology companies are innovative. They’re new, after all. They have new ideas and new perspectives.
Unfortunately, that’s not the reality. Soon after developing their initial idea, most young companies are quickly consumed by execution, not innovation. They’ve got to reassure skittish customers, figure out if that new marketing whiz really deserves equity, and find a health insurance plan they can afford. No wonder, then, that many startups lose the initial spirit and continuous idea generation that characterized their early days.
How then, do growing companies stay innovative? It’s a question we’ve been asking others in the tech community over the past year. Here’s what they recommend, and what’s worked for us:
1. Get some idea scouts. You’ve already got these people on board – the trick is figuring out who they are and how to get the best information from them. These employees are close to users and customers, enjoy generating new ideas, and know how to listen. They may be project managers or account managers, and they likely don’t have much formal authority. That’s okay. They’re still essential. Anoint them, listen to them, and make sure they’re heard. They are your feet on the ground.
2. Create a taskforce. Maybe you’ve got a great new idea, but no one to work on it. Assemble a cross-departmental team that can take a breather from their assigned duties to work through a few quick iterations of the idea. Leaders in your organization should all have the authority to call task forces together. Their goal should be to test out ideas before new projects get an organizational home.
3. Listen to industry--smartly. In the age of TechCrunch and the ever-churning blogosphere, you can be sure many employees are reading online all day long. But simply listening to industry gossip is not enough. Encourage your employees to read across and within your industry and to analyze the news. Why is Google entering the mobile space? Why is SalesForce now presenting itself as “social?” Encourage employees to analyze tactics in your industry and actively contribute to your own strategy.
4. The miracle of the train. Have you ever ridden a train, walked to lunch, or waited in an airport with a colleague? It’s amazing to witness the type of brainstorming and idea generation that can occur in these quasi-work environments. Smart leaders facilitate this type of reflection and brainstorming time. Encourage employees to travel, chat, and meet together in unstructured ways.
5. Think big. Insist on the importance of maintaining your company’s vision. Yes, we all need to listen to customers, but it’s easy to get caught up in incremental “improvements” from user requests and forget about the big ideas you started with. Identify the people in your organization who have this vision, and make sure they collaborate with those who are responding to user requests and market research.