May 24, 2012
The Direct Relationship of Fun to Innovation
BY Mary Mahoney
Most companies fail at innovation because everyone is paid to maintain the status quo.
Everyone wants to be innovative, yet why do so many companies fail?
A recent report on innovation produced by global consulting firm Booz & Company — Global Innovation 1000 — argues that organizational culture is the culprit. The report states that research and development are not enough to drive results. The crucial factors are strategic alignment and a culture that actually supports innovation.
The report observed only about half of all companies say that their corporate culture robustly supports their innovation strategy. About the same proportion say their innovation strategy is not adequately aligned with their overall corporate strategy.
Most organizations devote considerable time and energy to innovation, yet innovative ideas all too often die on the vine.
Aaron Shapiro, writing in Fast Company, a magazine dedicated to reporting on entrepreneurs and companies on the move, asserts most companies fail at innovation because everyone is “paid to maintain the status quo.”
In his blog, Stop Blabbing About Innovation And Start Actually Doing It, Shapiro explains it this way: “Everyone is maxed out making sure the company is doing what it’s supposed to do; innovation is what the weekends are for. Change is discouraged by time constraints and the stifling number of approvals needed.”
If you have worked in a large company or corporation, you likely can relate to Shapiro’s observation … unless, that is, you work at Google – the Internet and software giant.
Google’s corporate culture often is credited with driving that company’s innovative spirit. What makes Google so great? First and foremost, it takes very good care of its employees, which the company considers to be its most important resource. The company encourages employees to propose creative, nonstandard and innovative solutions, and it fosters work environments that are collaborative, friendly and fun.
For example, Google offers its corporate staff a number of stunning no-cost, onsite amenities and services including gourmet meals, doctor visits, pool tables, swimming pool, spa, cafes and massage chairs. The company also encourages individual creativity, preserving 20 percent of engineers’ time to work on independent projects.
Beyond amenities, the company maintains an “open” culture, the type often associated with startups, where everyone is regarded as a hands-on contributor and is encouraged to share ideas and opinions. Google hosts weekly TGIF meetings virtually and in person for employees to direct questions to senior leaders on any company issues.
No wonder Google gets hundreds of résumés a day!
Employees at DreamWorks Animation, which created Shrek and Kung Fu Panda, also are treated with free breakfast and lunch, movie screenings, afternoon yoga, on-site art classes and monthly parties, all encouraged by the chief executive officer, Jeffrey Katzenberg.
DreamWorks employees are encouraged to pitch movie ideas to the company’s leaders and take the company-sponsored Life’s A Pitch workshop to learn how best to do it by honing presentation skills.
Can innovation really be enhanced with playfulness and a sense of fun? Zappos thinks so, especially when it comes to delivering superior customer service. In fact, one of the company’s core values is Create Fun and A Little Weirdness. The idea is that unconventional behavior will help the company sustain its unique and memorable personality.
Zappos employees want to be able to laugh at themselves and look for both fun and humor in their daily jobs. Thanks to that philosophy, the company laughs all the way to the bank. The online shoe retailer reports over $1 billion in gross merchandise sales every year.
In Delivering Happiness: A Path To Profits, Passion, And Purpose, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh suggests making customer service a responsibility of the entire company, not just a department. He says his number-one priority is the care and development of the company culture.
In a CBSNews.com article, Do you Dare to Fail, writer Margaret Heffernan says innovation doesn’t just require risk-taking; it requires failure – something that companies typically discourage and punish, frequently with termination.
Jason Ryan Dorsey, keynote speaker and author of Y-Size Your Business: How Gen Y Employees Can Save You Money and Grow Your Business writes about one young Intuit employee who took advantage of this “thinking time” to come up with an idea that improved the actual process of innovation within the company.
Working many weekends and hundreds of unpaid hours, Tad Milbourn and his coworkers released Intuit Brainstorm, an online tool that revolutionized innovation at Intuit by allowing all employees to submit innovation ideas and move them forward.
In the six months after the new technology was released, ideation at Intuit — meaning the rate of idea creation and advancement within the company —increased 1,000 percent. Participation by employees in innovation increased 500 percent — exceptional for a company as large as Intuit.
Even more impressive, other companies now are licensing Intuit Brainstorm for their own innovation processes, “all because a 25-year-old Gen Yer wasn’t satisfied with something that was a cornerstone of his company for years.”
Some common themes in these organizations are a commitment to help employees grow both personally and professionally; hiring a mix of talented but diverse employees; taking risks and accepting that failure is okay; and last but not least, having fun.
Many large companies are realizing that creativity plays a critical role in the innovation process and allowing some fun and freedom to get the creative juices flowing can bring surprising results. Fostering a culture that supports entrepreneurial creativity and innovation can really drive performance and change.