It wasn't long ago that the very mention of innovation conjured up images of mad scientists and crazy engineers hidden underground in secret labs working on the things that would define the future. Today, innovation isn't some exclusive practice--it's a requirement.
Innovation--the act of inventing new things, rethinking old things and disrupting entire models--gave rise to mega brands such as IBM, Polaroid, McDonalds and Atari. It later birthed a whole new echelon of competition from companies who didn't have laurels to rest on and could move with more agility. And companies like Amazon, GoPro, Beats, Juice Press, Netflix, Uber and countless others disrupted entire industries by rethinking the model and the marketplace and delivering innovation.
Whether you're a Fortune company or an emerging business, whether you're focused on innovation or are desperately grasping for ways to remain relevant, here are some of the non-negotiables that could allow you to redefine an industry rather than follow one.
1. Remember that ideas should have no boundaries, but they do need constraints.
Free people from limiting their ideas by saying things like "We could never do that" or "That's not how we've done it in the past." These statements stifle creativity. At the same time, coming up with new ideas is only effective if they solve specific problems. The constraints should be the problem you're trying to solve, the ideas should be by any means necessary. As the most misreferenced example illustrates, Henry Ford built the car because building a faster horse would've been a complex and non-scalable solution.
2. Think about what people want first, then solve your business need.
You can't drive innovative thinking by solving for your business and organizational needs. While you are in business to make money, money follows what people want. Think about people and what they need first, then figure out how to "operationalize" it for your business. All of today's most innovative companies solved needs their respective industries were ignoring. While Blockbuster was trying to figure out how to save its dying business, Netflix came along and ate their lunch.
3. Empower owners. Discourage opiners.
Too many Indians and not enough chiefs will kill any great idea. Contribution remains a critical component of pushing people's thinking and needs to be part of all innovation--but be wary of those who toss out their thoughts but don't own any part of the process. The fact that your grandmother doesn't like the color of the logo is not necessarily helpful feedback.
4. Eliminate hierarchy, not leadership.
Great leaders help their teams realize great things. In the quest to flatten the structure, leadership has become a conversation rather than an action. If your senior leaders are not encouraging their teams and propelling your business forward, it may be time to get rid of them. The landscape is full of companies with senior leaders who enjoyed perks but aren't progressive.
5. Abandon any process that impedes progress.
Nothing happens without some sort of process. But the second a process gets in the way of progress, it needs to be rethought or removed. Develop flexible processes that ensure constant progress and can be adjusted as necessary. I once waited for more than two months to present our recommendations to a senior leader because "that was the process." As you might expect, six months later, their competitors had beat them to market--and continue to do so.
6. Tap into talent with diverse backgrounds.
This is a common problem in almost every industry. You can't use the same kinds of people with like backgrounds and expect different results. Fresh thinking comes from people with diverse experience and expertise. Introduce people into the mix who offer a fresh perspective. We recently built out a team on a Verizon project that included a behavioral psychologist, an ex-DOD engineer, a marketing expert, creative technologist, an industrial designer and several strategists from various industries. It was incredible to tap into so many new perspectives.
Innovative ideas are not simply nice to have. They're a long-term competitive requirement. If you're part of a large organization that's lost its innovative edge, it's up to you to change things. If you're part of an emerging company or are just starting out, the opportunity is yours to create.