A short but interesting look at the early days of Xerox PARC (1970s). The author Alan Kay, was one of the original employees and his research and development created the first ‘Object-oriented” software that is the foundation of all software that is developed today. One of the most interesting comments he makes is: “Quite a lot of the inventions Parc is most known for were done in the first 5 years by a rather small pool of researchers … the first 5 years (were) “effectively idyllic”… and the second 5 years (were) very productive but gradually erosive” This is a pattern one sees in many corporate innovation initiatives, the five-year cycle from inception and excitement to dissolution and disappointment.
Jeff Bezos most recent letter to employees is a profound and enlightening statement about how a company can remain relevant and lead over an extended period. In this age when the average lifetime of a company on the S&P 500 is getting shorter and shorter, Bezos states clearly how he intends to stay in “Day 1” for many decades. The key is to never, ever let operational excellence overwhelm the drive to reinvent your business.
“This new mode of organization—a ‘network of teams’ with a high degree of empowerment, strong communication, and rapid information flow—is now sweeping businesses and governments around the world.” - Gen. Stanley McChrystal Ret.Innovation Networks are no longer an option for large companies. Today’s VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) requires that companies form robust knowledge networks to have any real hope of delivering the innovations, especially transformational innovations, that are needed for the growth which they aspire to or to prevent disruption from new entrants. The concept of company networks is not new, and, for years, companies have created internal networks that have taken on many different forms and go by many different names – Knowledge Networks, Communities of Practice (CoP), Innovation Councils, etc...
Gary Hamel is a leader in the innovation field – author of influential books and articles and founder of Strategos in the 90’s. Nancy Tenant led innovation at Whirlpool and worked with Strategos in the early days of Whirlpool’s innovation efforts. When they write an article together, one should take note. The authors list five requirements for a truly innovative company:
- Employees who’ve been taught to think like innovators
- A sharp, shared definition of innovation
- Comprehensive innovation metrics
- Accountable and capable innovation leaders
- Innovation-friendly management processes