Innovation, Failure And Ignore Your Customers…

The Engine of Innovation

We have spent a fair amount of time on this site investigating issues and ideas around innovation (especially back in October of last year). This is because few things can so substantially affect the fortunes of a company to the extent that supporting innovation can. Nothing new here, open any business magazine or visit any number of blogs and innovation is being discussed. This pervasiveness is born out of the priority and value we place on being able build the cultures that allow us to innovate consistently, and well. It is also because creating these cultures is incredibly challenging, and we benefit from learning how others have navigated these challenges.

I read yesterday an excellent article in Architectural Record by Andrew Pressman titled that offered a perspective that warrants sharing. This perspective begins with the increasing recognition that a firm’s cultural environment is a critical factor not only in producing the best possible design work but also in attracting and retaining both new staff and clients. In any creative enterprise you are only as good as your people, teams, and degree to which they are supported. A significant component of the talent war is demonstrating to prospects that you offer the culture that will support them in their creative work. Additionally, just as the business press is permeated with investigations into innovation, so are clients. The expectation for design excellence, and for teams and methodologies that put innovation front and center, should be considered a best practice by clients looking for creative services. For creative teams, fostering this culture and being able to identify successful outcomes is a significant competitive differentiator.

The article highlights an approach promoted by in work featured in the Harvard Business Review back in 2000/2001, but still right on the money. It is an extreme approach to fostering innovation and acknowledges that new perspectives and ideas often emanate from “mavericks” with wildly diverse backgrounds, who harbor no preconceptions, and who are undaunted in challenging the status quo and championing their ideas. These mavericks are invaluable to successful innovation subcultures, and their ultimate impact on the organizational culture at large. Sounds good. The main points of this approach:

  • - Hire naive misfits who argue with you
  • - Encourage failure
  • - Avoid letting client input limit your vision
  • - Fully commit to risky ventures

I’ll let you read the article to get the full story, but there is some particularly valuable insight offered by , an innovator and inventor of microprocessors, with respect to how client input can limit your vision. He says:

“Don’t do what your customers want; Do something better.”

Ted Hoff

I think all of the points above are important, and while they may sound somewhat intuitive they are very difficult to maintain in practice. Many organizations exist specifically to limit the existence of these behaviors, they are counterintuitive to an “established” enterprise and threaten the order that some managers can spend their entire careers trying to create. They defy predictability, and therefore deny managers the ability to financially model and plan. Therein lies the challenge, to encourage these behaviors in support of an innovative culture and in contrast to the ubiquitous corporate model. To realize and champion that business as usual in creative enterprise is a definitive path to extinction.

One Response to “Innovation, Failure And Ignore Your Customers…”

  1. schneiderism Says:

    [...] would seem to align with my post earlier regarding building innovative cultures, and the idea that you need to attract talent to your team that bring both a unique perspective AND [...]

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