How organizations can build pervasive innovation-oriented cultures to stay ahead of the curve.
We recently experienced a beautiful example of real world simplicity and efficiency that sparked a trail of thoughts on the origin of innovation. We are privileged that our business gives us an opportunity to travel across the globe. and We were going through the paperwork required to procure a business travel visa to one of the world’s largest economies and manufacturing hubs (no prizes for guessing). This involved a peculiar 4 am visa centre reporting requirement, presumably to streamline the horde of co-applicants. We went in with a bit of pessimism as these processes can have many unforeseen variables and delays in our country.
We couldn’t have been proved wrong more pleasantly. The dreaded ‘waiting process’ so streamlined! Firstly, each batch of visa applicants was recorded as per arrival time into one centralized list created by the welcoming authorities. The list was time-stamped, assigned a wait number and copies of the same list were distributed to every applicant whose name was included in that particular list. As applicants went through the process, the entire group struck out those names and the line progressed smoothly, with each one of us knowing exactly where we stood on the list, no obnoxious cut-ins or any arguments between applicants and authorities in the entire process.
We were done with our application in no time. Or at least, the knowledge of every detail along the way, made the passage of time rather acceptable. Let’s analyze this process to draw an interesting parlance. We had – a centralized, distributed and public ledger. It recorded data simultaneously across various databases to prevent duplication and double spending. This was a system managed by a ‘peer to peer’ network with a distributed timestamp server. What we witnessed was in reality a blockchain that has changed the decades old headache of unmanageable queues!
Charles Kettering, a true champion of innovation (held about 186 patents) and the head of research at general Motors between 1920 and 1947, famously said, “If you have always done it that way, it’s probably wrong.” This prophecy holds especially true for industries that have established business processes that have been accepted as de-facto for generations. People have been queuing up for time immemorial now. We have an acute sense of everything that can go wrong in the whole process, which sometimes hinges on wide ranging variables like discipline, time of day and authoritarian nature of the controller of the queue. A small innovation, improved the system for everyone.
How did the Medici’s do it?
I’m sure a lot of our business readers would be aware of the concept of the Medici Effect, famously described by Frans Johansson, in his book by the same name. The argument simply is that innovation comes from an intersection of ideas that originate from vastly different cultures, industries and schools of thought. The concept was named after the Italian uber-rich family who is credited with ushering in The Renaissance, through their support of artists, scientists and creative thinkers across the world.
Success in our business revolves around our ability to equip clients with tools to help visualize products, engineering designs and processes. There is a certain art associated with the science of developing advanced software for 3D visualization projects which keeps us on our toes, seeking innovation with each passing project. A few observations on how organizations can help this culture of innovation pervade across hierarchy and functional teams:
1. The right hiring mix
An organization is a sum total of its parts and anything it delivers of value will always be directly attributed to the brains behind the development. Companies often hire for technical expertise (for example, how proficient you maybe in a programming language) or people management experience based on business forecasts and client requirements. This is a sound strategy in the short term, but too often, organizations focus on project related factors while hiring, leading to an overdose of homogeneity. If your business model isn’t one of scale involving lakhs of skilled workers required to do similar tasks, there is little to gain in the long term with this approach.
If you are a globally focused organization, servicing a melting pot of clients who speak different languages and hail from different cultural backgrounds, you improve your chances of delivering on innovation with a cross functional mix of people. It is important to hone home grown talent who will infuse the core organizational DNA into the approach to work. However, people with different perspectives, who have experienced work in different environments, can bring much needed freshness to the workplace. Organizations should refine their talent acquisition methods to attribute value to the non-technical personas of individuals as well. People who speak multiple languages, indulge in art and crafts, poetry or sports bring a fresh perspective to the table because of their exposure to different ecosystems.
2. Question everything
Too often, processes get so ingrained into the work culture of organizations that people down the line will cease to understand origins and rationale behind why some of those processes were constituted. The acceptance of the standard operating procedure aims at fostering consistency of output, but is a long term cancer to creativity. Teams should be empowered with flexibility to take the lesser traveled route in a bid to unlock potential creativity and innovation routes.
This is also a reflection of the transparency and honesty culture that an organization breeds. Regular and open dialogues with clients and employees alike help facilitate and foster better understanding of challenges that individuals face on a daily basis and to find common ground for solutions. Leadership plays an extremely critical role in encouraging the cross pollination of ideas and an atmosphere which makes it easy to question the obvious and look for solutions beyond the set norm. When teams see the result of bringing about impactful change, not only do they feel gratified, but equal parts of responsibility to keep innovation and change as a continuous process. Many human resource studies show that employees who are given an open platform to improve everyday processes, not only stay longer with organizations, but also help bring in talent from their external peer networks.
3. Increase your risk appetite
The two aforementioned points have a direct correlation with the company’s appetite for risk in terms of new projects, clients and challenges. As teams and organizations understand their strengths and deliver great RoI to clients on certain projects, it becomes easier for them to attract more of the same. We sometimes refer this to being the ‘bread and butter’ of revenue and are very important to a stable growth engine for the company.
As foundations are solidified, branches should spread their reach. This means that organizations owe it to their own growth, to keep a certain bandwidth to be able to grow the depth and/or breadth of their product and service offerings. This ensures a slow yet steady push to retain the quality of continuous learning, creativity and hence innovation. Organizations who have a great overlap in the profile of clients or projects, tend to see diminished levels of creative and out of the box thinking as it becomes easier for teams to follow the ‘one size fits all’ approach. Convincing clients of your ability to do more than what your core strengths are perceived as, is not an easy task. It is exactly this unknown that keeps any company at the forefront of exploring new market opportunities that enables them to stay ahead of competition.
As a final thought, it is important to keep an eye out for potential and manifestation of innovation, as it is to build a culture around it. Simple pieces of brilliance and thought that come from millions of individuals are all around us. They manifest in simple ways like we experienced at the visa centre, a thought that can be as easily applied to doctor clinics and maybe even major travel hubs. The word innovation is borderline clichéd in our world today, and it is probably time to decentralize its ownership from a few to the many.
Author: Varun Bhartiya
The author is Co-founder of nCircle Tech (A Prototech Solutions Franchisee).
nCircle Tech (inCorporated in 2012) empowers passionate innovators to create impactful 3D visualization software for desktop, mobile and cloud. Our domain expertise in CAD-BIM customization driving automation with the ability to integrate advanced technologies like AI/ML and VR/AR; empowers our clients to reduce time to market and meet business goals. nCircle has a proven track record of technology consulting and advisory services for the AEC and Manufacturing industry across the globe. Our team of dedicated engineers, partner ecosystem and industry veterans are on a mission to redefine how you design and visualize.
Over the last 7+ years, the organisation has worked on more than 150 large and complex projects for 50+ customers across 15+ countries.