Why is it that organisations like Pixar animation and Apple manage to bring out pioneering offerings year on year, whilst the majority of us are lucky to get even one break?
It’s easy to assume this must be down to the genius of their team members. However the answer actually has far more to do with their leadership and how these companies organise themselves.
When we think of innovation, we think of the classic ‘eureka’ moment. Just Googling images for this post, I was swamped with an abundance of light bulbs and clichéd eureka moments. But innovation is really a process that involves numerous stages. When asked about his eureka moment last week Mark Zukerberg answered, “Ideas typically do not just come to you, it’s a lot of dots that you connect to make it so that you finally realise that you can potentially do something”.
A new book exploring the idea has identified three key characteristics of how truly innovative organisations operate:
1) Their teams do collaborative problem solving
Innovative organisations frequently have passionate discussions, where it’s normal to disagree. Ed Catmull of Pixar commented that his organisation ‘truly believe that everyone has a slice of genius to contribute to the collective genius of the whole’.
2) They try new things and practice trial and error
Corporate culture is wired to the ‘set a goal, make a plan and work the plan’ model. So anyone taking a different approach is often criticised. Innovative teams however, build a bank of ideas which they test, revise and then test again in a long process of experimentation. They invite failure and it’s not a problem when things don’t work out.
3) They combine existing ideas in unanticipated ways
Working the best of option A and B to make C often results in something far more valuable than both. The challenge though, is that options A and B are not compatible. Our impulse is to make a quick decision and just pick one. Innovative leaders on the other hand are happy to play with ideas and experiment until they click.
As Thomas Edison famously commented ‘Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration’. These processes certainly mean more hard work, but for real innovation to happen it’s the role of leaders to put the right processes in place.