What’s stifling innovation in large corporations

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There’s a common lament about the lack of innovation coming out of large corporations. I don’t know why anyone is surprised. I can think of at least three non-trivial issues staring us in the face and they have to do with incentive and motivation.

Executive Compensation
It’s common sense, not socialism to be angry at the lopsided way people are compensated in big companies. Why in the world would anyone in their right mind do something new when the only people benefiting are those who are already making 10-20 times as much as me? Money is a powerful motivator for innovating. But if you look at many publicly traded companies, innovation isn’t rewarded. When it comes to money in big companies, them that got is them that gets. People in the C-Suite are outrageously compensated even when the overall company underperforms. If you were to do something innovative in a big company, there’s a good chance only a select few will reap the rewards, not including yourself of course.

A way to fix this problem would be for companies to put their money where their mouth is. If you actually want innovation, you need to reward the innovators within your organization the way you reward your managers. The other option would be to reward innovation, not cost cutting, at the highest level. Innovative leaders can inspire and motivate those beneath them to do the same.

Process
In large companies, “the process” is the culture. And yet, process is the antithesis of innovation. It’s about standardizing and normalizing, i.e. ensuring consistent results. Process is meant to drive out uncertainty, ambiguity, and serendipity, all key innovation ingredients. Most large companies reward you for how well you follow a process paying little attention to the outcomes.

Entrepreneurial people within organizations find ways around the processes to get things done. This understandably makes some people nervous. Therefore, outsiders and deviators of the process are pariahs even if their intentions are good.

A way to fix this is to let those who want to be entrepreneurial have their say. Don’t immediately tell someone to drop their suggestion in the box. They know that’s meaningless. Instead of putting more process in place, allow for more conversations. Don’t just have meetings to check the status of projects. Meet to actually talk about ideas. Yes, those meetings may last more than an hour, but they could pay off later in less work.

Exclusivity
Innovation within large organizations is something only a few people get to do. At cutting edge companies like Apple, only a select few are in a position to do something innovative. In fact, for the majority of people that work there, it’s preferred they keep their opinions on products to themselves. Having worked there, I found it very frustrating. Meanwhile, I can’t say it was always a bad thing. There was no shortage of armchair quarterbacks who thought they had the one great idea everyone should listen to.

Unfortunately, confining creativity and innovation to certain roles, people, or groups breeds contempt. After all, who wouldn’t want to be labeled innovative when you see how much the press fawns over them. The only difference between an innovative person, and everyone else is they have lots of ideas – good and bad – not just one silver bullet.

A potential fix is to make sure there is some cross pollination of people from different groups within your organization. When people who think they have a great idea get to interact with people who actually have lots of ideas, they see how much work it is to being innovative. They also see it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. There’s a lot to be said for people who can be effective operationally. Not everyone needs to be the mad genius.

Great user interfaces aren’t just a matter of taste

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I pulled the following from a Crain’s Chicago Business article about the many bold moves the Sun-Times is making here. While I think it’s great to challenge the Trib, there was one line that stuck out at me.

With regard to his digital strategy, Mr. Ferro said he’s trying to create a “great user interface” for a tablet application that is in the works. On that front, he praised the example set by the New York Post tablet application.

Maybe what he meant to say was their app is consistent with their brand. Like the New York Post newspaper, their app is sloppy, rude, and just slapped together, but it’s not a great user interface. The thing that bothers me, is that someone in a leadership position is saying the user interface (a very specific term) is an important part of their digital strategy, then cites one of the worst possible examples of a tablet experience.

Has anyone else seen the New York Post iPad app?! It’s a hot mess express. It doesn’t follow any of the conventions of most iPad apps. Not that it needs to, there are plenty of great iPad experiences that don’t. The NYPost app, on the other hand, looks like a mistake. It’s like someone tried to Xerox the entire newspaper onto an 8.5 x 11 sheet at the Kinkos color copy sale.

Look at this mess

You literally get an experience that leaves stories cut off on the edge.

I’m may be splitting hairs when I say he should have used a term other than “user interface”. However, it’s not uncommon for someone higher up the food chain to insert their opinion on the UI as if it were just a matter of taste.

By now, every exec has read the Steve Jobs bio, so they get the user interface matters. Unfortunately, they don’t necessarily understand how it actually happens. So the lesson here is don’t let all your hard work and critical thinking get pissed away because someone thinks it’s subjective. Spend the time comparing and contrasting the dos and the don’ts. Show your work. Don’t just build something and say, “here it is, what do you think?”

Take the time to explain why it’s important, don’t assume they’ll know.

via Sun-Times owner: ‘We’re not buying the Trib’ – Consumer News – Crain’s Chicago Business.