If you want innovation, you have to invest in people

Large companies have the opportunity to harness talent across all geographies, leveraging the diversity of knowledge that exists to power innovation.

“The lab or the factory. You work at one, or the other.” In his classic, succinct style, master marketer Seth Godin wrote this piece that sheds light on two types of work cultures – one that values creativity and is always pushing for the next big breakthrough; and the other that prizes reliability and productivity above all else, striving to maintain the status quo. In many ways, we can relate to these abstract concepts because we see them at play within our workplaces each day – the drive for productivity as opposed to creativity; a culture that rejects failures or chooses to embrace them; pushing breakthroughs or pushing numbers. It’s an all too familiar story. So how does one actively create and foster an innovative environment within this conflict zone? In my experience, all the game changers in this world are performance-driven and value-led, and backing all of them is a great execution-able talent strategy.

Large multinationals have the opportunity to harness talent across the geographies, leveraging the diversity of knowledge that exists across the enterprise to innovate. While driving and enabling innovation is contingent upon – markets, economies, resources and a host of other variables – it is hinged heavily on people. Companies that value innovation have one thing in common – they are not averse to taking risks, and provide the required freedom especially to their employees.

But let’s take a step back and ask ourselves, how are these ideas born? Is it the people or the process? There is a famous anecdote of a soap manufacturing company that was having a bit of trouble on its production line. Every other batch of soaps would come with at least one wrapper empty and would go through unnoticed for despatching. The best of the talent was put on the job. It was one of the janitors working in the company that came up with an ingenious solution. He placed a fan in front of the line so that the empty wrappers would just fly off and never reach the end of the line. In many ways, it is this arbitrary nature of innovative thinking that companies need to embrace. Great ideas can come from anywhere and we might want to reconsider if our structures and silos might be stifling the potential of our workforce.

There are no stepping stones to innovation, no fundamentals that you can teach. It all comes down to organizations to train and nurture their talent pool. Sheer IQ is not sufficient, there are important factors such as developing a risk-taking culture, commitment to continuous learning, engagement, values and rewards.

Talent is recognised for the individual value and strengths each one brings into the system. Different viewpoints are encouraged in an effort to harness the potential of diversity, instead of supressing it. The best of companies are able to do this through strong rewards and recognition mechanisms, which focus on empowering their people in two important ways - “Speak Up” and “Be Heard”.

The new generation is already tearing down the silos and pushing the envelope when it comes to innovation. The workplace itself is a living, breathing organism that can either cater to stifle or unleash the passion and potential of its people.