How innovative are you? How “old” has your thinking become?
Brian O’Connor, founding partner of Mr. Finn and a contributor to Inc., recently interviewed Justin Tobin to get his perspective on what keeps companies innovative. As the founder and president of DDG, a consultancy that designs, builds and manages startups inside Fortune 500 companies, Justin Tobin qualifies as a “change agent.”
Tobin tries to get larger entities to adopt the mindset of their younger, leaner (and often more successful) competitors. Here are five ways to do it:
1. If You’re Not a Start-up, Think Like One
“For large organizations, often satisfied with the status quo, the imperative to innovate and grow becomes more difficult,” says Tobin. “As markets and brands mature, competition gets fierce.”
Look at your younger, smaller competitors. How does your speed-to-market compare? Are you deploying customer-centric user groups to innovate products and reach new markets? How saddled are you with bureaucracy and hierarchy? If you’re a CEO, when’s the last time you spoke to a customer? If it was more than three months ago, you’re not thinking like a startup.
2. Integrate – Don’t Incubate
Believing that innovation can only happen when separated from the organization’s main business, many CEOs set up separate satellite units led by “Chief Innovation Officers” to prevent getting caught up in all the red tape and internal barriers. Tobin sees this as bad process for innovation.
“All innovation efforts and functions need to be fully integrated into the larger organization in order to encourage innovation and scale it from the inside out,” he says. “This is especially true if one of your barriers is old-school mindsets and behaviors that prevent new ideas, processes and methodologies from being enforced.”
3. Hire Innovative Talent
“The competition for innovation talent is at a fever pitch,” says Tobin. “The dearth of innovation talent, coupled with the changing arc of people’s career paths means it will only grow more intense. The concept of paying your dues and working your way up the corporate ladder without a voice is unacceptable to young talent. Large companies need to create a people model that’s reflective of that. Innovation can’t happen without innovative talent.”
4. It’s B-to-U, Stupid
The definition of marketing continues to evolve. Let’s face it, consumers are the new CEOs – get used to it. “As consumers take more control and act as advocates for brands, companies need to stop thinking of themselves in the construct of B-to-B or B-to-C,” says Tobin. “The future is B-to-U (a.k.a. business to you). Ultimately every business is talking to or trying to influence an individual.”
5. Smart Data, Meet Smart Design
The emphasis has already shifted from big data to smart data, but what’s the future? “The businesses that are winning today don’t think about data for data’s sake, they think about how to leverage it effectively and how it can be turned into better outcomes,” says Tobin, who cites Amazon as a brand that’s arrived at the smart data stage and is just now dabbling with smart design in productive ways.