Are Tech Companies Taking Their Eye Off Innovation?

Campbell's Soup CanForbes just came out with its list of the World’s Most Innovative Companies, and the usual suspects are there: Amazon, Salesforce.com, Apple, Google, Altera, Boston Scientific, NetApp, Citirix Systems, Emerson Electric, Campbell’s Soup…

Wait, Campbell’s Soup?

Yes, Campbell’s is indeed listed. The company I work for didn’t make the grade but then I’m not surprised. Like many organizations impacted by a downtrend in business, one of the first items it cut was R&D funding.

Examining the list more closely, I noticed that there was an “Innovation Premium” and a rank for each company according to this statistic.  The fine print said:

The Innovation Premium is a measure of how much investors have bid up the stock price of a company above the value of its existing business based on expectations of future innovative results (new products, services and markets) . Members of the list must have $10 billion in market capitalization, spend at least 1% of their asset base on R&D and have seven years of public data.

Okay, now this list makes sense -– especially the rankings.

I sent the list to a number of colleagues both within and outside my organization.  As techies, we all love lists like this.  Within minutes I received a number of comments about how Campbell’s Soup made the list but their organization did not. It’s funny how we all zeroed in on the same thing.

After the fifth such remark from a colleague — and having been in R&D for over 20 years — I had to weigh in. My message: If you want an innovative and creative organization you have change the way people think, not only at the top but across the board.  The first step is to remove self-limiting thoughts and reasons why something can’t be accomplished (though you do have to respect the laws of physics and nature).

Next, thinking innovatively and creatively is something that can be learned. Its basis is changing your perspective to expand on possibilities until you see something you were unable to see before. Think of a wide-to-telephoto lens.  Using the telephoto setting you see things close up. When you shift to the wide-angle you get a whole new perspective — a bigger picture.

So now a couple of questions: Using your own definition, is your organization innovative? Do you think you’re innovative in your work?

Later that evening, I attended an ACM technical meeting on User Interface Design at HP’s offices on Wolf Road in Cupertino.  As I drove up, I noticed a large word, “Innovate.” Hmmm, were they on the list? Well, no. That begs the question: Is this a message to the rank and file employees, or to management?

Source: Forbes

Note:  The author owns shares of stock in Amazon.com, Apple, Google, Boston Scientific, NetApp, and HP.

Comments

  1. BY Lauren L. says:

    “The great creators- the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors- stood alone against the men of their time. Every great new thought was opposed. Every great new invention was denounced. The first motor was considered foolish. The airplane was considered impossible. The power loom was considered vicious. Anesthesia was considered sinful. But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they suffered and they paid. But they won.”
    - Howard Roark, “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand

  2. BY Mike says:

    I am curious to know how someone learns to think creatively, outside-of-the-box, etc. One thing is for sure; not all innovations will be well received unless the intended market is convinced of the utility of the innovation. It’s best if your innovation meets a need the user never knew existed. If you’ve not read the book “Copies in Seconds”, I encourage you to do so. http://www.amazon.com/Copies-Seconds-Communication-Breakthrough-Gutenberg-Chester/dp/0743251172

    • BY R. Emmett O'Ryan says:

      Thank you for your comments.

      I actually have read this book and I enjoyed it.

      My favourite book on innovation and creativity and one that I recommend to my engineers and BI analysts is “Thinkertoys” by Michael Michalko. Here is the link: http://www.amazon.com/Thinkertoys-Handbook-Creative-Thinking-Techniques-2nd/dp/1580087736

      • BY Mike says:

        Thanks. I’ll look up that book.

        Has it been your experience that folks who learn to think creatively had that ability, but perhaps untapped? I should think that “creativity” would be a talent like painting, music, sports, etc.; if the talent is there it can be developed; if it is not, it can’t. With that said, everyone has one or more talents, it’s a matter of discovering and maximizing them. Sometimes our talents are pointed out by others.

    • BY R. Emmett O'Ryan says:

      I am not a psychologist and most of the psych classes I took way back in college or grad school were more about abnormal psych but I have NEVER encountered anyone who did not have the capability to think creatively. Most of the time it has been arrested or constrained in some way. The key is to get them to suspend their disbelief that they cannot think creatively and teach them how they can.

      I think everyone, at least those individuals I have encountered, has this capability. Now whether they choose to use it or know that they have it, that’s an entirely different story.

      I have also found that heavily process oriented organizations contribute to a lack of creativity and innovation throughout the organization because there is little need for it… the organizational imperative demands that you follow the process and that there is actually little room for innovation. In fact, innovation is considered counter to the culture.

      Do some folks have a “talent” that makes them excel about others? In some areas, absolutely. It does not mean others can’t learn to be innovative and creative, and perhaps find and enhance their own talents. Again, I think one of the first steps is to change your perspective.

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