7 ways to create a collaborative culture and drive innovation
The ability to innovate is the biggest differentiator in business today. There are many ways for a business to innovate, whether it’s developing new products, discovering more efficient market channels, optimizing costs, or acquiring new customers. But one thing remains consistent: It’s the primary force that defines whether a business can pivot and support what investors expect.
The pandemic has made innovation more important than ever. According to a McKinsey Global Survey, in the wake of the pandemic, consumers have shifted significantly to online channels, and businesses and industries have responded in turn. For example, I’ve seen retailers exploring the transition to e-commerce, healthcare companies to telehealth, and financial services companies to online banking.
In fact, more than half of executives surveyed by McKinsey in 2020, see digital transformation as a competitive advantage or refocus their entire activity around digital technologies.
The key to successful innovation, however, is the pace at which it occurs. Businesses need to make informed, final decisions quickly, while simultaneously gaining buy-in from all stakeholders. This is where collaboration plays an important role.
Innovative thinking and collaboration is less a philosophy than a science. In my role as a member of the Google CTO office, I work with a team of technologists and industry experts with a mission to âinnovate in collaborationâ with our clients. We’ve helped businesses solve their most difficult and ambiguous problems through the lens of technology. We’ve helped an insurance company go completely paperless in less than 18 months and a consumer packaged goods company redefine the way plastics are handled in their supply chain. It’s always a combination of people engagement, process improvement, and speeding up the value of technology.
âHeptagon Thinkingâ is a seven-step system that my team has developed to guide collaboration with our clients, which helps them make major changes that are disrupting industries. We find it particularly useful because anyone at any level of the organization can use this method and can be applied anywhere people need to come together to solve a problem or move an effort forward. Change won’t be instantaneous, it takes effort, communication and commitment, but it will ultimately provide the ability to innovate faster and be more successful. Supreme at all these stages is the willingness to make failure acceptable. Sometimes things just don’t work out, especially when you push the boundaries. Accept this and move on, but don’t stop innovating. It’ll encourage your team to create and perform – and to feel safe and secure while doing it.
Provide a platform to empower people on an equal footing in innovation. The best innovation often comes from within an organization, triggered by comments like “why are we doing this?” Or “I wish …” and the sweetheart “Well, that was a waste of time.”
Better listening leads to a better understanding of ideas. The emphasis on listening also allows a leader to better guide and identify spaces on which to focus. Your team knows you and your business best, give them space to have their voices heard and ask questions.
Be very clear on “WhyâWe do what we do as a business or as an innovation. For example, âWhy are we doing this? Or “Why will customers care?” And “Why do we exist? Â»Concentrate on finding the why. It will be hard to define, but when you do, the rest becomes so much easier.
Friction. It’s not always about being the first or even developing the next big tech. The best innovation comes from the elimination of friction which benefits the user. It is often that companies are still grappling with the preconceptions of the past. For example, I frequently hear, “We don’t do things like that here. Where “We’ve always done it that way. Removing friction is the first step towards disruption. Bias removal provides the bandwidth for people and resources to focus on moving things forward for the future.
What are you famous for? This is where innovation will continue to have its greatest impact for an organization. Make it a title and always present, “Why are we famous?âFocus on the details and make it simple. Google co-founder Sergey Brin has always said, “Any conversation I have about innovation starts with the ultimate goal.”
It is important to allow time and space for stakeholders to reflect and reflect, or even calm down for a while. For example, I often take long walks when I need to make important decisions. It is the uninterrupted space that allows me to reflect. And, when you have a team with diverse perspectives, it’s often the space that allows for the best discussions and creativity. Create space!
It is imperative that you move quickly in all aspects of innovation, even early ideas need to be shared for people to contribute. Don’t wait for the perfect written report; sharing early helps you learn faster. Failure is okay when you push the boundaries of innovation, because not all innovation will work. This is called âfail quicklyâ in technology but I prefer an approach close to experimentation and learning, leading to a positive impact. Even something that fails quickly is of great benefit to continuous learning and innovation.
Jean Abel is Technical Director in the CTO office in Google cloud, whose mission is to âinnovate in collaborationâ with customers, fostering long-term relationships to guide customers’ digital transformation goals and ultimately disrupt their industries.