Innovation looks good on paper, but few established organizations are able to make it happen in practice. When I interviewed Digital Royalty’s founder Amy Jo Martin, the bestselling author of Renegades Write the Rules, she explained why the effort pays off.
Alex: Companies talk a good game about being innovative, but few actually make it happen. Why do you think this is?
Amy Jo: Because it's hard work. It's extra work. It takes more time and energy to think differently, test new ideas, try to sell them to everyone involved and stand your ground against the non-believers. Swimming in the sea of sameness appears to be safer and easier than dipping your toes in uncharted, choppy waters. Anytime we innovate, adversity follows. With adversity comes tension and people tend to avoid conflict. In reality, tension equals growth. You're much more likely to drown in the sea of sameness than get eaten by a shark while navigating through new waters.
Alex: What's the business case for an innovative culture? How should we convince the higher-ups to take the risk?
Amy Jo: When employees feel appreciated, happy and safe they are more loyal, engaged, and productive. They care more about the company. They perform better. All of this is directly related to profitability.
Experimenting is key. It's important to experiment and fail early so by the time everyone else catches up, you're already polishing up your knowledge. Progress is related to innovation. When we strive to innovate, we feel a sense of progress and perceived progress is one of the three ingredients of employee happiness.
Alex: What is the best way to foster intrapreneurship in a department or organization?
Amy Jo: At my company, we encourage the team to ask forgiveness instead of permission – but bring your results with you when you're asking for forgiveness! Empower team members to make their own decisions. Give them the autonomy they need to think independently and also the support and encouragement they need to believe in what they're creating.
At Digital Royalty, we also celebrate Blessons, which are lessons and blessings combined. If we share our learnings with each other, we're able to leapfrog other's “mistakes.” We have a wall at our office where we write our blessons to showcase and celebrate them.
Alex: Are there industries that are simply not well suited to innovation? Why or why not?
Amy Jo: There's a difference between playing not to lose and playing to win. Innovation can either be looked at through a defensive lens as a survival mechanism, or through an offensive lens to stimulate growth. Either way, a company must always be innovating in order to survive. Technology doesn't necessarily equal innovation. Humanization can be a form of innovation. Evolving the way a product or service engages with the consumer is a form of innovation. The longer we suffer from Innovation Allergies, the tougher it is to find a cure.
Alex: Final question. How do you recommend companies look at operational innovation (things like filling orders, customer service, etc.)?
Amy Jo: Testing is one way. Request feedback often and look for ways to humanize each process versus always relying on automation.