"It isn't the incompetent who destroys an organization. The incompetent never gets in a position to destroy it. It is those who achieved something and want to rest upon their achievements who are forever clogging things up."
— F. M. Young
I’ve seen it firsthand. As a researcher I witnessed how hard was to convince management to fund innovative projects. As a manager I found that most of my bosses were happier maintaining the status quo than embracing innovation. When higher management decided (finally) to accept and adopt innovation, staff in general were skeptical. Now, in hindsight, I can identify several company culture traits that explain why it was so hard for innovation to permeate the corporation and flourish.
The fact is that innovation has been the fuel that keeps long living companies’ lights on. Research done in several countries show the importance of innovation for company survival. This is true for both start-ups as well as older, well established companies. However, we need to keep in mind that it is very difficult to measure the degree of innovation of a firm. Number of patents or dollar amount invested in R&D fail to account for many important incremental innovations that helps to keep a black ink bottom line.
Well, what makes a company innovative? What are the common traits of these businesses?
First of all they provide stability. Not in the form of preserving jobs or relocating unhappy employees, however. Stability comes in the form of principles. Core values that remain the same and do not change carried by the winds of the latest management fad. This builds a strong culture and employees either fit well, staying with the company for a long time or they are almost “expunged”.
The company vision is usually simple, creating a common ground and not putting limits in what can be done. If a business is to meet the challenges of a changing world, it must be prepared to change everything about itself except its core beliefs. Otherwise the company risks the necessary stability that fosters innovation.
A second trait of innovative companies is the drive for continuous progress. There is a relentless need to grow and improve, thus beating their fiercest competitor – themselves! This drive pushes the company to explore, to create, to discover, to achieve, to change and to improve. It is not a sterile, intellectual exercise. It is not done for the sake of fattening the bottom line – don’t get me wrong, the bottom line is important for innovative companies. But it is the consequence of a job well done and not the most important goal.
This drive has been the engine behind many companies that keep exploring and creating smarter solutions and solving problems. This is an internal force, shared by all employees. A fire that does not extinguish because it finds stability in the company’s core principles. The drive to go further, to advance the extra mile, to overcome difficulties and to create the new needs no external justification. This force is not fed by prizes or acclamation. It does not seek understanding. It is like an unsettling need to do better even when the company is considered the best in its field. There is no finish line, there is no destination. There is only an urge to make it better.
This is very interesting. These companies take a very conservative step and have a vision that does not need to change with changing times, creating a very stable base where they can grow. At the same time they do not stand still and seek continuous improvement, understanding that any leadership position is fragile. Like Ben Franking used to say: It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.
Jose Cid is a Business Intelligence Consultant, an Educator and Coach. Throughout his life he has been helping people inside and outside of the work environment. His motto can be translated into a simple equation: Knowledge + Intelligence + Action = Power ©. Please visit www.josecid.ca for other articles and services.