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5 Innovation Cultures and Lessons Learned from Them

In order to keep up with the rapidly changing landscape of the modern business world, great businesses must develop innovation cultures. Innovation culture is essential to the success of any company. It helps to create a company-wide attitude that encourages your team to take ownership of their idea

Phil McKinney
Phil McKinney
4 min read
5 Innovation Cultures and Lessons Learned

In order to keep up with the rapidly changing landscape of the modern business world, great businesses must develop innovation cultures. Innovation culture is essential to the success of any company. It helps to create a company-wide attitude that encourages your team to take ownership of their ideas, invest themselves in the company’s success, and adapt processes and systems to meet the present and future needs of your business and its customers.

While many elite companies offer innovation in today's market, several businesses merit special attention. This list includes five companies that have used innovation culture to grow their business and five lessons we can learn from their successes.

1. Adobe

Adobe, well known as a dominant software acquisition and development firm, has faced a changing market where innovation moves faster than businesses can be acquired. The fast-paced market and competition from mobile and open-source software platforms drove Adobe to ramp up the innovation and implementation of internal ideas. The result of Adobe's drive to create an innovation culture is a project called Kickbox, developed by Mark Randall.

Level the Playing Field

Kickbox was an answer to the problem of curating innovation within an organization so that every idea gets vetted in the real world. Every project received a prepaid card worth $1,000 so that an employee could self-budget and fund their initial innovation, before preparing a project for delivery to executives and management. This box leveled the playing field so that employees at all levels of the business were encouraged to innovate and create new things, even if they did not match their position or Adobe's usual software.

This level playing field is essential for giving employees ownership of innovation, for cultivating an environment where any idea has room to be tested in the marketplace, and for creating concrete vetting processes for ideas.

2. Zappos

I have covered Zappos and its innovation culture before. Their innovation culture continues to inspire others, as well. While many startups have innovation cultures that are subsequently lost after an acquisition, one of the conditions for the sale of Zappos to Amazon was that Zappos remained independent and maintained control over its innovation culture.

Plan and Commit to an Innovation Culture

Tony Hsieh, co-CEO of Zappos, said that an innovation culture needs to be planned. This is evident, in so many ways, within Zappos’ organization, from the conditions of their sale to Amazon to the layout of their Las Vegas office space. They are committed to nurturing a culture of innovation. Businesses that want to follow the radical success of Zappos innovation have to realize that it takes a similar level of commitment to create an innovation culture within a corporation.

Innovative businesses need to dedicate thought and energy to the purposeful creation of an innovation culture, and Zappos is one of the best examples of how you do this.

3. Capital One

The financial crisis of 2008 led many banks to rethink how they were doing business. Part of Capital One's innovation culture was discovered by design strategy teams that realized the best way to bypass the quick “no” from middle management was to seek opportunities for innovation in the departments that were hurting the most.

Innovate Where Needed

Capital One's innovation teams discovered that they could get better results from their innovative ideas by meeting the needs of people on the outskirts of the business. They would provide innovative solutions to help those who needed the innovation so much that they would be willing to look at small successes and give it a second chance.

Like Capital One, great innovation cultures will find ways to cut red tape and provide innovative solutions for the members of their organization who need it most.

4. Microsoft

Only 5 years ago, Microsoft was losing out completely on the mobile revolution, big data, and open-source development and was relegated to history. Now, through innovative decisions at all levels of the business, Microsoft's Windows 10 is gaining traction that neither Windows 7 nor 8 was able to do against XP. The tablet/laptop crossover is competing with Android and iPad, and XBOX 360 is its own profit-producing machine. All of this would not have been possible without some radical commitment to innovation within Microsoft.

Changing the Paradigms for Innovation Culture and People

Microsoft changed several key attributes of its business management in order to facilitate its turnaround. Rather than focusing on innovation efforts solely on their products, they include business processes and corporate policy in innovation initiatives. Additionally, Microsoft had to change the metrics that they used to reward teamwork so that teams would feel free to innovate without fear of reprisal.

A successful business must understand the metrics you use for innovation, employee rewards, sales goals, and so on. These metrics must be in line with the culture so that employees provide their best work and bring their innovative ideas to the table, no matter what they are.

5. IBM

IBM is another great tech company that has seen multiple ups and downs. Their turnaround in the 1990s, under the tenure of Louis Gerstner, required innovation that was based on execution, as opposed to solely looking at the vision.

Keep The Customer in Mind

One of Gerstner's policies for innovation was “Operation Bear Hug” where executives had to go out and spend time with customers and report back to Gerstner. A customer-centric mindset helped drive innovation in creative ways that produced product lines that better met customer needs.

A level playing field, commitment to an innovation culture, meeting the needs of the periphery, changing metrics, and interactive customer focus are all essential parts of an innovation culture. These attributes were all used by the companies outlined above to establish, grow, or turn around their companies in a fast-paced economy.

Creating A Culture of Innovation

A culture of innovation can be difficult to create, but it is achievable as these companies show. I used many of these principles during my time at HP and continue to give businesses the tools to create their own innovation cultures. Please contact Techtrend Group for more information on innovation, culture, and how businesses merge the two.

BlogCultureadobeCapital OneIBMInnovationkiller innovationMicrosoftzappos

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Phil McKinney is an innovator, podcaster, author, and speaker. He is the retired CTO of HP. Phil's book, Beyond The Obvious, shares his expertise and lessons learned on innovation and creativity.


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