It’s one thing to build an Innovation team within your company, but entirely another thing to then take those best practices and successfully reproduce the success in departments through a company. My goal in putting together a book on best practices for Innovation was to discuss methods and strategies that I’ve seen work during my time at several different Fortune 500 companies. I also wanted to help share some first hand accounts of when things have gone well and not so well in the process in order to help individuals build a successful process for innovation regardless of what type of team or how much authority they currently have.
In thinking about what it takes to make something successful happen in multiple groups throughout a company though, it’s an entirely different set of skills and processes necessary to reproduce that innovative best practice in a hundred different teams. If we look at the first chapter of Sun Tzu’s “Art of War”, Sun Tzu discusses the five factors that will affect the outcome of a war.
These principles can be very helpful in understanding best practices for business strategy, and can also be applied in helping build effective innovation teams within a company. Consider as your reading this further, how building an innovation practice could potential utilize the first three principles, and replicating those practices could potentially be helped by understanding and utilizing the last two principles.
The First Principle, The Moral Law, is all about how to cause people to follow you in complete accord so they will follow you regardless of the personal impact. In war, this of course looks very different than it does in business, but user buy in from both your co-workers, leaders, and employees is paramount in being successful as an innovator.
The Second Principle, Heaven, discusses the environment you’re operating within. The principle applies to whether high or low ground makes a difference, the effect of rain on the battlefield, etc. For this context, the culture and make up of your company will have a big impact on how you can launch an innovative idea and how you can take your surroundings into account when it comes to getting buy off and moving an idea through the risk-based immune system within your company.
The Third Principle, Earth, discusses aspects such as the terrain taking into account the hardness of the ground, distances to travel, etc. In this context, it’s aspects such as whether you work for a multi-national company versus a start-up and the realities of regulations and reporting structures that make up the sometimes overly rigid structures that keep truly innovative ideas from springing up. There has been a lot about being innovative, and creating a series of steps on how to grow ideas into products, but a lot of literature doesn’t take the realities of enterprises into account and bringing those steps against the hurdles the typical employee or manager will run into.
The key though, is replicating that success as an executive or senior leader in multiple departments throughout the company, and not just once within a particular group but several times in several different teams. The next step is taking the next two principles into account, The Commander, along with The Method and Discipline, to grow this best practice into something replicatable throughout your company.
The Fourth Principle, The Commander, is all about your beliefs, values, and models making up the integrity and core of a leader. This is important to replicate, because being an innovator is something that can be taught and learned, but each individual comes with their own pretext and a sub-culture that can come with it’s own challenges. Training teams and raising leaders to command new ideas is the first part of successful replication, and will make or break a new concept from working it’s way through that organization without having to micro-manage or hand-hold the individual you’re recruiting to help spread that innovative best practice.
The Fifth Principle, Method & Discipline, is all about the organization and goals of troops to help them focus on outcomes in battle despite the chaos that exists within large groups of soldiers as fights break out and battles erupt. In business, you can only control so many variables, and the real key to war is to win before you go to battle. Defeating the opponent in this case means going to war with everything from apathy, to a lack of discipline, to fear around risky investments. Having clear methods and disciplines in place means that everyone is equip and adaptable, despite the issues that can sideline progress and cause people to panic either due to macro-economic factors (ex: the stock price drops due to unusually bad weather, and your project is at risk of being cut) or internal issues such as a re-org or change in executive leadership.
Being innovative as a company is much harder than having an innovation team, but it’s the only way to truly matter company-wide in the long run and is the hardest thing to do. From changing the culture, to accepting higher levels of risk, the path isn’t an easy one but it’ll ensure your company remains proactive, and stays far ahead of your competitors for years to come.
I encourage you to spend time reading The Art of War, this time considering how these principles can help you rehabilitate the overused yet underutilized concept of Innovation and help drive effective change inside your organization.