As CEO of a company that is challenged every day to deliver innovative solutions, I see two main areas where every CEO can help increase their company’s level of innovation:
1. Innovation happens at the interface of different ways of thinking.
It is critical to bring together people with different backgrounds, disciplines and world views to create an innovative environment. Paying attention to the floor plan so we don’t have groups of people isolated from others is a simple but key step, in my view, for ensuring engineers are talking with scientists who are talking with designers who are talking with sales and marketing people. We currently have a team dedicated to a successful business venture that grew out of a simple conversation between one of our designers and one of our physicists over lunch. It was their different ways of thinking about the same challenge that provided the spark for what is now a product being sold around the world. Too often we see companies close the door to innovative opportunities by isolating all their staff by division. I have walked through the doors of large companies that actually put their R&D staff, manufacturing, marketing, finance and sales teams all in separate buildings and in some cases separate cities. I often think to myself that it is as if they are deliberately trying to stifle innovation.
Getting your own people talking to each other is a big step. The next step is to stimulate innovative thinking by getting your staff out of the office, and out of their comfort, and engaging with customers. In our case, as developers of medical products, this is often engineers engaging with medical professionals, doctors, scientist, patients and sales people to better understand the true needs of the customer. Most companies I meet leave customer engagement to only a very small number of their staff. I recommend exposing as many of your team as possible to customers, partners and opinion leaders outside your four walls. This has a dramatic impact on the quality of the ideas your team can produce.
2. Defining the right problem.
I cannot emphasise enough how defining the right problem is half the battle. The good news is that as the CEO you are all in a perfect position to define the right problem. It is hard to describe in a few words how to do this, but the best advice I can give is, ‘look through your customer’s eyes’ and don’t describe the problem through the framework of your existing products or services. What I mean by this is, if you make widgets and you describe your product innovation as a bigger, better or faster widget, you are closing the door on innovation opportunities.
You need to think deeply about your customer’s actual problem and solve that. Raise yourself above your existing business and describe your customers problem as a new competitor in your industry might. This elevates your company from a mere service provider to a true business partner. Don’t look through the lens of your existing product or service offering.
1. Design a business and a culture where staff from different disciplines meet with each other and with customers.
2. Focus on your customer’s broader challenges and don’t define their problems in terms of your current products and services.
Planet innovation CEO, Stuart Elliott, spoke at the CEO Institute Summit on the 29th of January 2016 in Sydney. The Summit was attended by over 350 CEO’s under the theme “Innovation – the competitive necessity”