Nature. Nurture. Nightmare. What Does it Take to Build an Innovative Enterprise?

innovation team

Against the backdrop of the Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs and a framing post here, innovation practitioners from around the globe tackled the question of “what does it take to build an innovative enterprise?”

The discussion came on this week’s innochat, which was moderated by Andrew Marshall (@drewCM) of Primed Associates. (This is Part I. Part II will follow later).

An Innovative Enterprise

“First and foremost it’s about vision. Then focus … you need a hardass to keep you on track,” said Harvey Briggs (@OBX_Harvey). “To build an innovative enterprise takes commitment to innovation. It must be front and center, not an afterthough,” said Andrea Meyer (@AndreaMeyer).

“Clear vision, be able to swarm people motivated around a project with purpose and a lot of technical expertise,” said Jose Baldaia (@Jabaldaia), a Portugal-based innovation consultant.

“An innovative culture embraces the ‘what if’ with discipline, razor sharp focus and a bias towards results,” said Vala Afshar (@ValaAfshar), Chief Customer Officer with Enterasys Networks in Boston.

A couple of tweeters mentioned customer focus. Natasha Gabriel (@Natasha_D_G) said the “common denominator is customer centricity/intimacy.” Stacy Leidwinger (@StacyLeidwinger) agreed. “Intuition and listening skills — innovators know how to listen to customers and envision what would make their life better.”

Echoing the innovator’s dilemma, Marshall noted that Apple used to innovate “for” its customers and not “with” them. Gabriel and Briggs agreed with that take. “Customer intimacy is not understanding what they’re asking for, but what they’re missing,” Briggs said.

“Generally, an innovative enterprise arises through continually judging things by a different metric from everyone else’s,” said John Lewis (@JohnWLewis) in the UK. “Most powerful innovations create or uncover needs. They don’t just meet them,” said Briggs.

As for the tone in the organization, Juliet Barbara (@julietvbarbara) — author of this innochat article on — said, “the top needs to show that failure won’t be punished.” Although I haven’t read the Jobs biography, he appears to have taken a harsh approach to failed endeavors. “Jobs punished failure,” Meyer said.

“What really quells innovation is lack of leadership — specifically, not linking innovation to business strategy,” said LeAnna J. Carey (@thehealthmaven).

Prime Examples of Innovation

Marshall then asked what companies people saw as prime examples of innovation.

“Toyota relies heavily on line workers to innovate solutions to manufacturing problems,” said Corey Lord (@CoreyLordCPA). Baldaia cited Google and Twitter because they allow knowledge to circulate and leverage creativity when new knowledge flows in.

WL Gore is a great example of an innovator — very creative thinking right from the top,” said Renee Hopkins (@Renee_Hopkins).”Gore is a favorite of mine as well and also 3M whose target is to have 30 percent of revenue from products less than three years old,” said Mike Parker (@Sysparatem).

Gwen Ishmael (@Gwen_Ishmael) liked Phillips’ approach of small innovation teams cascading their advances out to the company as a whole. “Yes, I like the work Phillips has been doing,” Marshall said. “As well as Miele in the appliance space.”

Other companies mentioned were Salesforce, P&G, HubSpot, Tropo (@tropo), a cloud-based voice and text messaging company, and Eyepartner (@eyepartner) a video and streaming service.

“I enjoy following what BMW is doing. Not only innovation in automotive tech but in marketing as well,” said Lois Martin (@LoisMarketing).

“EMI, in its day, was great! I worked in their CRL [Central Research Laboratories] which pioneered stereo recording, radar, color TV, CAT scanners…” said Lewis. Achievements, indeed. But EMI’s recent travails have the look of a company that Kodaked itself.

Part II on innovative leadership traits is here.

Illustration, “Innovation Team,” courtesy of Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig on Flickr.


2 thoughts on “Nature. Nurture. Nightmare. What Does it Take to Build an Innovative Enterprise?

  1. Pingback: John P. Muldoon » Nature. Nurture. Nightmare — Innovative Leadership Traits

  2. Pingback: John P. Muldoon » Microsoft’s Innovation Dilemma

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