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Monday, April 16, 2007

Innovation Insights

Over the weekend I was reading an article with Bill Campbell, who runs Intuit but prior to that was involved with Apple.

Two interviewers spoke to him recently for his thoughts on Innovation and as I’m on a bit of a roll here as I’m talking in a few weeks time on knowledge management and innovation in London so some additional quotes might be useful - but also it does chime in with what I’m talking about. Although the thrust of his discussion relates to Engineers some of his comments would cross boundaries. Quite a lot of his thoughts are already reflected in some of the work that I am looking to carry out in this firm.

With regard to innovation, he feels that it is important to provide people with time to work on things of their choosing that may be breakthrough thoughts that can replenish your business core. (I’ll be writing about core businesses another time.) These projects are then reviewed and evaluated and have the opportunity to become a mainstream product.

He acts iike a venture capitalist would act and wants people to come up with a basic business plan in terms of who is the product for, what do you think the market is likely to be. What will this do and how much of peoples behaviours will have to change. Effectively Campbell is operating what is known as a Schello screen with a Real/Win/Worth it bias - I have more details of this if people are interested.

He feels that it is important to give the’ crazy guys some stature and importance. He feels that if you start from that you have a better chance of maintaining a cutlture of innovation.

He also feels that it is important for a CEO to meet with people and have an open forum where people could highlight what was making life difficult for them with regasrd to their work or what they were struggling with and how projects that might be being balked could be bought forward. The important thing is that the innovation should be looking to solve the problems that consumers/clients want.

Campbell then goes out of his way to say that he is not an innovator - he sees his role as CEO to ensure that the right people are in the room and that the crazies have an opportunity to contribute. He sees empowered people having the opportunity to contribute is one of the single most important thing that you can have in a company.

He also expects that he needs to accept failure - if you demand perfection, then people are less likely to innovate because you cannot anticipate every nuance in a complex world.

As I learnt in my entrepreneurial studies most entrepreneurs deal with the imperfect idea and tweak it as they go along. Remember the great quote from Edison who spent ages trying to get the bulb to work and said to a friend who asked him why he had failed to develop the bulb.

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

He also feels that it is important to give people time off - especially if they have been working on a long or hard project to go and have some time off outside of their normal holiday and when they come back they are refreshed and can do the hard work. Also he feels that they can reflect on their experiences and pass those lessons on and use the break as a means of looking at a project with new eyes which means that they will do better work.

Campbell then goes on to say that in addition to innovation that he also pushes hard on best practices. He wants his employees to have a hunger to discover best practice so that in the absence of innovation there is the small tweak that will make the team/organisation more effective He gives high grades to people who know what is going on in their industry and can adapt quickly to meet the problems that clients have.

Effectively he is saying that technical excellence is a base but that it needs to be aligned with commercial knowledge - not only of the client but the industry drivers also.

It is an interesting article and is definitely going into my folder of articles covering innovation as it is one of my passions and one which knowledge management can help to deliver in a firm.

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