Whether you're Elon Musk or a Fortune 500 Chief Innovation Officer or an entrepreneur with grand visions of shaking up an established industry, ultimately your job is delivering big ideas that will solve a real consumer need and grow your business.
Every day, I'm energized watching emerging companies like Slack scale an improved corporate communication tool, as well as established leaders like Nike, who are continually advancing materials for athletes such as Aeroreact and disrupting entire manufacturing processes with products like FLYKNIT.
The common ground between a venture-backed tech company, a large enterprise or any organization that is truly changing its industry is the ability to deliver on big ideas. But before you can do that, you have to effectively communicate why these new ideas will matter for their customers, partners, investors as well as the people inside their organization, who ultimately turn them into a reality.
Here are four things you can do to master the art and science of communicating your innovation initiatives internally so you can ensure you're not only successful in launching ideas but are also inspiring your colleagues along the way.
1. Craft a clear definition of innovation.
Since innovation has reached the less than flattering "buzzword of the decade" status, its definition now more then ever needs to be clearly articulated. This will ensure people understand what it means, can more accurately measure the potential of new ideas and can better align on which ideas should take priority.
Shaping our own company's definition was both collaborative and iterative (which happen to also be tenets of our business). Our co-founders, heads of strategy, design, product development and technology sat down and built on our diverse experience.
We netted out with:
For us, innovation is the alchemy that simultaneously creates new value for consumers and businesses by developing transformative and disruptive concepts, products and solutions.
This definition was broad enough to apply to any industry but tailored to the business we are in. Once you are clear on what innovation means for your organization, you can begin sharing it and gaining alignment more broadly.
2. Develop your company's mission and vision by embracing innovation.
This articulation not only creates an environment that get employees inspired by their work, but also paints a canvas for the entire company to champion progressive thinking and action. A heritage brand who has done a brilliant job of evolving and remaining current is LEGO. With more than 8 decades behind them of making great toys which inspire kid's imaginations, they've elevated themselves with a much bigger aspiration; to "Inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow" by "Inventing the future of play." This openly encourages the organization and its employees to pursue a much broader offering than before and gives their leadership and fellow employees a new, shared paradigm upon which they can innovate and constantly try new things.
3. Communicate one-on-one with the people who make progress happen.
Canvs is a killer new technology translating how audiences react to their favorite content online. We've partnered with them over the last few years and I've watched them evolve in real time. Jared Feldman, their CEO saw the opportunity to build a platform that could provide accurate sentiment analysis, something which had been wholly unreliable prior. Building Canvs meant pivoting from a service business (where they had became experts in how people expressed sentiment on social media) to a SaaS focused company. Those changes needed to be understood and embraced by employees at every level. While nailing the broader communication of the opportunity was important, Jared made it his business to sit down with each key stakeholder to clearly articulate the path forward and to incorporate their thinking into the action plan as they evolved.
4. Wrap progressive ideas in a story the business will recognize.
The more progressive a concept, and often times, the more traditional a company, the harder it can be to get alignment. Thinking back to Lego again, their expanded vision and mission made it possible for new platform ideas like LEGO Worlds to gain support. The future of play continues to leverage progressive technologies to create immersive experiences for kids. Lego brought on development and publishing partners like TT Games and Warner Brothers to help them stretch into this new world - literally. Yet, even in a virtual 3D experience that takes you to an imaginary place, the company's most beloved asset, those little rectangular building blocks, remain front and center. As this idea moved through the organization, the story was built around supporting the company's foundation allowing it to feel right for both progressive and traditional employees.
Visionary business leaders have a unique ability to anticipate what trends are coming and they're able to translate them into the masterful products, services and experiences we all love. They thrive on the perpetual pursuit of breaking new ground and innovating regardless of how difficult it will be to deliver. They form strategic partnerships, attract great talent and forge alliances which can help them achieve the unimaginable. But above all, they effectively communicate and inspire the people who ultimately make it happen. Effective communication is the tool that powers everything we do. Creating a culture of innovation is no exception.