Creating Great Mental Environments That Foster Innovation

Apr 21 2014, 9:33am CDT | by

Companies that innovate well are known for having cultures of innovation.  This post shares examples of programs that create innovative cultures in firms and countries.  While the most innovative firms communicate to employees in different ways that risk taking and individuality are highly desired, it doesn’t mean all product development risks are OK.  The most successful firms also have checks and balances to avoid completely uncalculated reckless risks, and they embrace and learn as much as possible from failures.

Team Member Support and Collaboration
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At El Bulli, 5 years selected the best & most creative restaurant in the world, the team who worked on new dish development (at least 35 new dishes were developed each year), never referred to themselves as I: only “we”.  In that way they were all in it together and no one was individually blamed for failure.  According to the Harvard Business School case, other slogans they lived by were “Ignore Barriers to Impede”, “Move Forward Without Fear” and “To Innovate Means Never to Copy”.  The word chef also means leader.  The chef/leader Ferran Adriá supported his team and made clear the vision and mission of the restaurant and what was required of a dish to make it worthy of being served to guests.  This support and clarity of new product development goals enabled the team to be highly inspired and do extraordinary work

Showing Employees Their Contributions Are Valued
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At the Chocolate Line, considered the most innovative Chocolate shop in Bruge, Belgium, a chocolate capital of the world, the entire staff appears on the chocolate bar labels.  This demonstrates to all the employees just how much their contributions in making the wild and crazy innovations are valued and it encourages them to keep on innovating.

Broadly Soliciting Ideas Within The Firm
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The Culinary Innovation Center at Arby’s Restaurant Group, Inc. has turned out a string of hits in recent years to make the chain one of the best performers in the industry. As part of an “open innovation” approach to product development, Arby’s encourages ideas to surface internally. One example is a program called “Hey Chef Neville!”, a form of crowd sourcing within the company.  Team members or franchisees who believe in an idea have the right to hold up a symbolic green card indicating they want to champion it because they feel so strongly about its potential.  If they make a good enough case, the Company may pursue the idea.  Since launching the Hey Chef Neville! program, Arby’s has seen a 12-fold increase in product idea submissions – from 100 ideas in 2012 to 1,200 ideas in 2013.

Multiple Inspiration Initiatives
Grey Advertising, the agency that won Adweek’s “Global Agency of the Year” award, and Advertising Age’s “Agency of the Year” award has a number of initiatives they credit with creating an inspiring environment for their staff.  These include:/>

No Meeting Zone: This mental break on Thursday mornings this’s an enforced, meeting free time period, lets employees be creative and have time to think about the business and creative challenges.  The practice is credited with leading to ideas like Canon’s Project Imagination or Marriott’s Travel Brilliantly campaign

Celebrating Employees: Grey honors the creative risks employees take beyond the walls of Grey, spotlighting employees who moonlight as playwrites and CEOs of start-ups.  They enable staff to pursue their outside passions, which they feel leads to better work results at the agency.

Dog & Pony: Monthly gatherings at local establishments are themed events organized by various teams.  Connecting with each other outside of the office drives employee engagement, collaboration, bonding and morale.

Town Hall: Twice a year Grey meet as an entire agency outside their office at rotating venues, to share work and inspire each other, .

Keeping Employees Challenged and Learning
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Smart Design, the design and innovation consultancy with offices in New York, San Francisco and Barcelona, rotates their consultants to work with different clients and industries.  The practice is win’win.  It keeps employees challenged and growing and importantly brings different industry perspectives to their clients.  We’ll meet with Smart Design at their Barcelona studio/office in the June Inventours program.

Embracing Failure and Learning From It
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Israel is known for having a widespread culture of innovation throughout the country.  Risk is embraced because while it sometimes results in failure, it’s also provides valuable learning since many successes wouldn’t have occurred without the initial attempts.  It’s routine at small and large firms throughout Israel to dissect failures and analyze causes for mistakes in order to learn as much as possible from them.  This practice stems from the military that seeks to make as few errors as possible.  Military operations are analyzed after the fact to see how things could have been done differently and better.  The book Start-Up Nation describes this in detail.

Success Metrics That Are Respected
At Ocean Spray years ago, when I was VP & GM of the Pepsi/Ocean Spray joint venture, Ocean Spray had one of the best new product success track records in the food business.  For new products to be introduced nationally, they had to pass key metric hurdles that had historically proven reliable indicators of success.  The thresholds were regarded as sacred, and a multifunctional team reviewed all go/no go decisions.  This practice avoided individuals or functions engaging in wishful thinking that a weak idea would somehow turn out to be a winner.  Rather than limiting creativity, Ocean Spray used these metrics to make products stronger and weed out losers that could divert attention from winning ideas./>

It takes thought and effort to create great mental environments that can increase the likelihood of getting great work!

 
 

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