Innovation through engagement

Fernando Polo

22 October 2015

Innovation requires you to want to complicate your life. Innovation is coming to work in the morning and telling your boss: “We’ve got to change this. Even though it still works, it won’t for long. I’ll get on it today.” We can imagine the surprised look on your boss’ face: “What are you talking about, man? Get on the report that the general manager asked us for and leave innovation for the weekend.”

What is innovation within a company? Having or adopting an idea and being willing to put your job at risk to make it a reality. Or working overtime to combine your own ideas and daily work. And all of this extra effort, this risk, who is it for? For your employer?

Change is accelerating and competitive advantages are decreasing. Life cycles for products associated with knowledge and digital technology are getting shorter. Digitalisation is disruptive and transforms entire industries. Given this new panorama, we should balance efficiency (the 20th century’s mantra) with innovation (the 21st century’s mantra).We should keep schematics oriented toward optimising the production process, and produce innovation in greater quantities than was ever necessary before.

Work will have to be carried out in an efficient process, while at the same time developing a culture that questions absolute truths and how things have always been done. We need to be suspicious of positive sales figures (which could go the other way) and dare to launch new products that will eclipse sales for previous products before someone else does.

And to produce innovation, the best tool we know is engagement. Friend and sensei Javier Perales helped us to interiorise a concept underlying this vision. In marketing, there’s much talk about customer engagement, which we define as the bond or engagement created between a client, and the triangle formed by the brand, the product and the employees of the company. But we can also talk about engagement with employees and with providers. And with a crowd of other people who, despite having no contractual relationship, would be willing to help us if we gave them the right motives.

If people are the motor for innovation, connection between people becomes the petrol. On #socialholic, we said that using social media gives people the three Co’s necessary to innovate: consciousness, connections and courage. If we’ve established an internal culture that promotes intrinsic motivation, we’re increasing employee engagement.

These employees in turn will be willing to make the effort to innovate. And if we equip them with digital tools that make it easier to collaborate and decentralise processes, we will be making it easier to have connections within the organisation, accelerating the speed of innovation. And if we make corporate barriers more porous, we will be able to open our innovative processes to providers, partners, clients or society as a whole.

As a radical extreme, we could think about Local Motors. In 2007, they created the first online community to design and produce cars. Other well-known cases illustrate how to exploit crowdsourcing or open innovation. On #socialholic, we talked about

Thousands of ideas from Starbucks’ fans come every day and undergo evaluation. The first idea was implemented in 2008. Due to complaints regarding splashed coffee, splash sticks were manufactured to stir coffee while covering the hole on the plastic cup’s lid. After a pilot experience and a positive welcome, it was implemented all over the United States. A year and a half later, more than one hundred improvements were put into practise, and this number keeps rising.

Also well-known is the case of Procter & Gamble and their platform Connect & Develop, oriented toward involving public entities, universities, providers and researchers in their innovation processes. It would be difficult to compete with the genius scattered all over the world that can now remotely connect and collaborate. It’s best to learn how to use that planetary energy by eliminating hierarchies and barriers, learning to create bonds with other living organisms, individuals and collectives.

“Why should I complicate my life by changing the status quo?” Let’s answer that before increasing the R+D budget.

This is an excerpt from Lidertarios: creating intrapreneurs in the digital age, published in Spain by Gestion 2000 in January 2015.