Ask the Cover CEO: What are Your Secrets to Innovation?

 Ask the Cover CEO: What are Your Secrets to Innovation?

HOW DO YOU BUILD A CULTURE OF INNOVATION WHERE THE BEST IDEA WINS RATHER THAN THE SAME IDEA?

“Fear and caution are the killers of creativity, so it’s the job of leadership to encourage and applaud wildcatting. But while still keeping an eye on the scale of investment and the likelihood of future returns.”

“To build an idea-driven culture you have to recruit for it. We look for people from divergent backgrounds and ways of thinking. But they have to be able to work together openly and without caution; collaboration is the key to making the culture work. We also look for people who are super talented but don’t have huge egos. It’s important that everyone is in it for the idea, and not for the individual.”

Mark McGarrah, Partner, McGarrah Jessee

“We keep an idea wall that’s covered floor to ceiling with the best and most unexpected ideas that solve a problem in new and different ways. It’s a reminder that we are first and foremost an idea company. That’s what everybody is here for. It’s what keeps us in business.”

 Bryan Jessee, Partner, McGarrah Jessee

“Innovation is a tricky subject. Many organizations try to reward innovation at the contributor level, but this often leads to solutions to specific needs within the source department, instead of big-picture innovation that can drive the business forward. The solution is to create innovation teams that cross department lines and leverage radically different skillsets and experiences. A developer paired with an accountant can solve dozens of real business problems that neither solve could individually. Determining which ideas win is also tricky; executives may be too far removed from daily operations to understand the impact of the ideas. A better approach may involve a voting system with representation from team leads across the organization. Let the folks on the ground signal the areas where they can use the most help.”

HD Moore, Owner, Special Circumstances

 “We ask them the, “What keeps you up at night?” question as it relates to technologies or processes our competitors might put into place that could render our product and service offerings obsolete.”

George Wommack, CEO, Petro Waste Environmental

“It all starts with our values as a company. TIers know they’re expected to push the boundaries of what’s possible and create ground-breaking products, all while doing what’s right.”

Rich Templeton, Chairman & CEO, Texas Instruments

IF YOUR EMPLOYEES INNOVATE AND THE IDEA WORKS, HOW DO THEY SHARE IN THE BENEFITS?

 “As new technologies & business models gain traction we let team members determine the areas they want to focus on. Success is shared at the individual, group, and company level.”

John Arrow, Chairman, Mutual Mobile

“We encourage our people to think like owners, and we support this with a profit-sharing program we call Fair Share, which is designed so that everyone shares in the benefit together. Everybody in the company gets the same percentage of their salary as a profit-sharing check at the end of the year. It’s a significant number. This not only rewards those who come here to build something, but reinforces a collaborative culture where everybody is in it together.”

“Our Fair Share program is more of a ‘thank you’ and a celebration of the fruit of our collective labor than an incentive. We recruit people who have an internal drive for creativity and innovation already in them. When people have that hunger, it’s not about motivating them; it’s about giving them the means to express and bring to life their ideas.”

Mark McGarrah, Partner, McGarrah Jessee

 “Typical plans involve cash bonuses for completing a proof-of-concept, with a second bonus if the idea is greenlit for further development. Someone who consistently demonstrates good ideas may be able to contribute more if they are moved to a different team (office of the CTO or research organization). This is also tricky – the longer someone sits in a research team, the further removed they are from operations. Rotating “research” roles are one way to approach this that is fair and dodges the issue of innovators being divorced from current business challenges.”

HD Moore, Owner, Special Circumstances

WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST OBSTACLE TO INNOVATION AND WHAT DO YOU PLAN TO DO ABOUT IT THIS YEAR?

 “As a leader of a company whose foundation is rooted in constant innovation, my biggest fear is not changing. In a world where electronics are permeating new markets and technology is advancing at warp speed, complacency is our enemy; urgency is our friend. I’m constantly focused on making sure our teams are thinking two steps ahead to build solutions today for tomorrow’s needs.”

Rich Templeton, Chairman & CEO, Texas Instruments

 “I spent a lot of time in an executive role and feel like I lost sight of current challenges in the security space. I plan to spend as much time as I can back in the field, conducting research, talking to customers, and performing security assessments. My goal is to refresh my view of the enterprise security space and identify opportunities to build new products and services.”

HD Moore, Owner, Special Circumstances

 “The single biggest obstacle to innovation is time. Innovation requires exploration and pondering, and simmering and tinkering and sharing and poking and honing and wondering. It’s not something you can schedule a meeting to make happen.”

Bryan Jessee, Partner, McGarrah Jessee

“We are investing in people to help us instigate and explore – not typical roles in our industry. For example we hired a mechanical engineer to help us explore new technologies. We’re investing significantly in virtual reality, customer experience, motion graphics and content production – all way ahead of the revenue streams. We are making the time to explore and see what’s next.”

Mark McGarrah, Partner, McGarrah Jessee

 “I think innovation is typically obstructed by thinking in terms of analogy rather than reasoning up from what is, in fact, true. When people try to innovate, others will say to them, “You have to do it this other way; it’s the way it’s always been done.” Although in some cases that is true, a lot of innovation comes from rejecting this sort of thinking. This year, my goal is to implement this uncommon style of thinking, coined Cartesian doubt, when deciding what next to work on.”

Josh Singer, Student, Stanford University

 “Our most important challenge is on continuing to attract the best minds in transformative technologies like IoT, VR, autonomous cars, as well as around new business models themselves.”

John Arrow, Chairman, Mutual Mobile

IF SOMEONE HAS AN IDEA IN YOUR COMPANY, WHERE DO THEY GO TO EXPLAIN THEIR IDEA?

“Fundamentally, we believe that one mind is powerful, but a team of minds is limitless. Whether it’s with their peers, their supervisor or even senior management, we encourage our people to raise their hands early and often to explain their ideas and make them a reality. This diversity of thought fuels innovation by bringing different viewpoints and perspectives together to ignite different ways of and our culture more collaborative and inclusive.”

Rich Templeton, Chairman & CEO, Texas Instruments

“Individuals with ideas should be able to share these with the wider leadership team. One way is to assign someone to track the submitted ideas and then present them to the leadership team for feedback. Another model involves setting up a formal “idea board” within the company and letting the entire organization vote and comment on the proposal. What methods work best depends a lot on company size and regional distribution. Smaller businesses may benefit from a monthly “idea lunch,” where folks can present to the organization over the lunch period.”

HD Moore, Owner, Special Circumstances

“When someone in the agency has an idea that they’d like to build out, the process starts with collaboration between teammates, with whom they get help vetting and refining the idea. It then goes up on an idea board where everyone can comment, push and applaud the work. What moves forward through this natural filtration process ends up being presented to leadership.”

Mark McGarrah, Partner, McGarrah Jessee

 “We have an incredibly flat culture. Because of our size, it’s even simpler to start testing an idea immediately and direct resources as needed. Our goal is to ‘not need anyone’s permission’ to test out a new idea and yet still have the ability to cultivate and empower ideas. It’s our belief that the ‘best idea’ is irrespective of whose idea it was.”

John Arrow, Chairman, Mutual Mobile

 “We use Slack to communicate with each other. One of the best things is that it allows us to be constantly in contact with each other and ideas to flow freely. Anyone who is interested can easily partake in the conversation and contribute whenever it’s convenient for them. It’s not a surprise to go to bed and wake up with 10-20 notifications about an idea someone introduced.”

Abhinav Suri, Student, University of Pennsylvania

 

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