The Harsh Reality of Innovative Companies

Gary Pisano has been making the rounds recently as part of his tour promoting his new book ‘Creative Construction’. You can see/hear him discuss various aspects of his takes on innovation here, here and here. In this podcast, he focuses on the innovation culture aspect of his three-part framework.

Most people, when discussing an innovation culture, focus on the pleasant aspects, things like ‘willingness to experiment’ and ‘celebrating failure’. But there is the other side, the ‘hard’ side that is much tougher and less pleasant and unless you embrace both sides, you really don’t have an innovative culture. As an example, Pisano discusses the often-used phrase ‘celebrate failure’ as

One that annoys me to death. You want to celebrate the learning that comes from failure, not celebrating the failure. The focus has got to be on the learning, not the failure. Innovative companies have high tolerance for failure, but they have low tolerance for incompetence. They’re not messing up because they didn’t think things through or they’re designing sloppy experiments. They’re actually pushing the envelope

Pisano makes the claim that a lot of larger companies have a fairly high tolerance for mediocre performance and that, if you’re a company who’s got a reputation for mediocrity, you’re not going to attract the A people. One of the behaviors of highly innovative cultures is that people are free to speak up and challenge ideas.

When you sit around the table, you realize, wow, these are pretty tough places. I mean you’ve got to have a thick skin. I’ve sat through many of these meetings and you see people kind of really getting at it. Now. The key is it’s about the idea, it’s about the data. It’s about the concept. It’s not about you.

In many organizations this type of tough challenging is not welcome. It is confused with ‘respect’ and you are not a team player if you start to challenge somebody at a meeting. People actually don’t feel it’s the right thing to do (this is the culture).

To create a truly innovative culture, these are the types of ingrained feelings and behaviors that need to be changed, and that’s difficult. This is the ‘hard’ side of culture.

Original Article »

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