Innovation can be risky for any successful company. Most leaders want the progression of innovative thinking, but many also believe there is no need to rock a steady ship and potentially create unneeded turmoil.
Innovation doesn't always have to be a risky proposition. On a recent episode of my podcast, YPO's 10 Minute Tips from the Top, I interviewed NK Tong who is successfully innovating in one of the oldest professions, real estate.
As co-founder and group managing director of Bukit Kiara Properties in Malaysia. Tong is challenged daily with finding new concepts and ideas for buildings to not only give his customers more value, but to also keep the creative fuel running inside of his company.
Tong, a member of the YPO, is an MBA graduate from Wharton School of Business who built his company up from a team of five people to one with development properties worth over 375 million euros in Malaysia alone.
Here is Tong's advice on innovating safely but surely.
1. Get your whole team involved.
Coming up with big ideas on your own is a tall order, especially when you need to innovate constantly. Tong's method? Bring in the whole team. "I believe in the wisdom of crowds," he noted. His company has very specific methodology. They bring in around 40 people into a meeting, dividing them up into seven groups. Each group comes up with different ideas that are then pitched to the entire staff using mind maps. The ideas are then revisited two to three weeks later with a more focused group of the lead creatives in the company and they eventually talk through the differing ideas until they believe they found one that fits the bill, even if it feels outlandish. "After 20 minutes, the idea that initially seemed ridiculous became the central idea."
2. Stay close to the customer.
No matter how great an idea is, it will mean nothing if the customer finds it lacking in value. Tong's company's approach is to stay close to the customer."On any project, we have 60 percent of the company involved in sales," he explained. "On weekends, different team members from all departments get involved in sales. So the whole company then knows the customers because they have met the customers. They feel aligned with the customer." They then create with the customer in mind. But the interaction does not end there as Tong's team keeps in touch with customers on social media, creating Facebook groups that allow customers to interact with the company and other tenants. "Of course there are residents who will complain about issues on the ground. And we love that because if we can get instant feedback, then we can do something about that. It also gives us feedback on how the team's doing," acknowledged Tong. "But more importantly, it also creates sense of community so that they can get in touch with each other."
3. Begin with the end in mind.
New and even radical ideas are crucial to the growth and innovation of a company. Tong advocates seeing the big picture first and working backward so you can identify the essential building steps. This approach also surfaces the potential pitfalls that could cause you grief later on. "We have to be careful to be on the leading edge, not the bleeding edge because that can be very expensive," asserted Tong.
4. Be open to new ideas in the moment.
When executing an innovative and potentially risky plan, deviating from the structure in place could be challenging and seen as unsafe. But taking those risks at the right moment could potentially pay off as well. "We still shoot bullets before cannonballs," revealed Tong, referencing Jim Collins' Great by Choice. "When we go onsite, we will look around and if we see opportunities for improvements, sometimes these changes or improvements don't add to cost but add to customer experience."
Each week on his podcast, Kevin has conversations with members of the YPO, the world's premiere peer-to-peer organization for chief executives, eligible at age 45 or younger.