August 16, 2012

Focus: The Fast Path to Innovation

I am going to come right out and say it – most company cultures do not encourage innovation. They readily encourage efficiency, meeting expectations, or doing more with less. In a company it is important to structure, schedule, arrange and quantify.  When the moment comes that something does not fit into any of those categories it becomes complicated. When organizations DO try to take on the task of innovation, it quickly becomes so overly complex that eventually it dies of a thousand cuts. Those cuts (or challenges) are avoidable.  While changing corporate culture is among the most difficult things to do, it is the most lasting and valuable change. 

Let’s consider a small aspect of culture, and often a good one:  Focus allows things to get done – when someone says, I am accountable to making this happen.  You want that.

When we simplify our goals to laser-like focus, we enable great solutions to come through.  It means a cultural shift of letting go of ownership of individual ideas to focus on a group-owned vision – in at least some aspects of what we do.  For this to prosper in business, we do have challenges to overcome in order for innovation to become a tangible component of company culture. These challenges are:

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” – Steve Jobs

Let’s take a look at how innovative companies have addressed these potential pitfalls and conquered them. These companies not only succeed and benefited their own internal culture, but the consumers they proudly serve.


Donors Choose does not align a list of principles with what can go on their website regarding educators needs. If the educator and the donor both deeply believe in it – they find each other

Stand For Your Beliefs

Other social dating sites are that, dating sites. says you want to be married, lets get you married! Your personal page is more like a resume than anything else. Listing things like salary, education and health items. They believe in marriage!

Short Sightedness

Amyris produces renewable synthetic fuel, but they found another application – the ability to save malaria patient lives.  A drug called artemisinin kills the malarial parasite but is often in short supply because it has to be obtained from a rare plant. In 2010, Amyris and its partners completed development of a microbially produced version of artemisinin that can be made in virtually unlimited amounts; patients could begin receiving the drug in 2012.

Buck “Conventionality”

Build it, use it, show it, love it!

SPANX leadership lives it and loves it! This is truly a top down organization. There is a passion as a consumer I can feel from this company. The top includes everyone and is ready to listen to ideas to keep SPANX – well SPANX!  Due to the fact that this small 120 person team is a cross departmental team their product is a cultural phenomenon. The celebrities on the red carpet do not go on the red carpet now a day without SPANX under their couture dress. My favorite is Molly Shannon on stage at an award show, she lifts up her dress and shows her SPANX underneath.  And I am sure Sara knew she had hit the big time when SPANX landed on Oprah’s favorite things list.

The product is innovative, but innovation can’t stop at the product and this is how I feel that SPANX has delivered – their website! I found it TOO easy and quick to select the SPANX product that would help my personal troubled area. Their website is completely solution based and fun. Being on the website is being immersed into the SPANX culture and I admit I was in love.

In my mind encouraging innovation is simple – I am not saying that the next mind blowing thought or product is simple, but creating the culture around it can be. As a leader when you do come across that amazing new product or idea go for it! Please please please also keep in mind that it did take Edison thousands of prototypes before his dream become a working light bulb. Failing is good; it means that someone is willing to take that extra large leap in order to propel their company forward.