Corporate Evolution : Adapting for Survival

Kate Light

This October, The Bakery was invited to speak at South Summit in Madrid on the topic of corporate innovation. Co-Founder Andrew Humphries explained to a packed audience of both corporates and start-ups that there is more to corporate innovation than a marketing KPI (and it’s also not just frippery) — it’s vital to the survival of your company. If done properly, companies should expect big things — to be a leader in their industry or even a pioneer.

Corporate innovation is one the most widely discussed topics at tech events: how companies are implementing it, their results, and how they are profiting from it. But the question is, what is it that truly makes for a good innovation programme, and how can companies create the right environment internally for long-term impact? The two most vital focal points for your efforts: corporate culture and objectives.

Also speaking at the event was the world famous TED speaker Sir Ken Robinson, talking about the current state of education. We often forget that innovation is a learned skill, and to create a truly innovative company you will need brilliant teachers. To this end, South Summit integrated thought provoking discussions around learning how to learn, teaching, understanding what it means to be creative and curious, and the role that education plays within building a healthy company.

There are very few things that set us apart from other living beings on this planet — imagination being one of them. Imagination is to have the ability to bring into one’s mind things that aren’t yet real or present. Creativity, or applied imagination, goes one step further as the execution phase, and innovation is putting all of this into practice.

So where are we going with this? Well, the only companies that are continually innovative and successful are the ones who have a constant flow of these imaginative ideas — i.e. your innovation culture. Or they are companies that seek solutions elsewhere, they embrace ideas that we at The Bakery actively preach — No one has all the best talent, and someone, somewhere, has probably either solved or is currently working to solve your current problem.

Some well-known examples of companies that did not embrace this ideology being Kodak and Blockbuster, once powerhouse corporations during the golden ages of film. By overlooking the importance of innovation each eventually became irrelevant. Kodak, who bet on film, got replaced by each smartphone and tablet housing a camera, and photo publishing to the virtual albums like Instagram and Pinterest. Blockbuster, who likewise placed its bets on film and DVDs (physical entities) has long been replaced by streaming giants like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and PPV. Like Andreessen said, “software is eating the world”.

Knowing that creativity is vital to innovation, how does a company create this culture? As Sir Ken Robinson explained, ‘believing you’re not creative is a myth, it is merely a muscle that needs to be exercised. As is the case with many cultural skills, creativity is often taught, and everyone has the capacity to become creative. And who better to lead these exercise classes than the leaders?

Creativity needs to be so intertwined in one’s culture that it becomes second nature. This is achieved through;

  • Company-wide conversations about innovation and creativity
  • Rewarding employees efforts, and
  • Maintaining an open mind to new ideas.

Culture is such a vast subject, but when it comes to corporate culture and supporting the idea that creativity, perception, and imagination can be learned, we can look to Varnum, Grossman, et. al. of PMC, “The Origin of Cultural Differences in Cognition: Evidence for the Social Orientation Hypothesis.” They conducted a study that asked both Western and Eastern origin individuals to describe what they saw when shown a picture of a fish tank. The results were fascinating.
  • Westerners had a tendency to be more analytic and use formal logic in their reasoning. In essence, Westerners were taught to simply see a fish tank.
  • Easterners were more holistic with a focus on contextual information and relationships in visual attention. They see a room with cream walls that has a wooden table where a glass tank that holds water, fish, plants and stones, rests, next a computer.

The key takeaway for us, in this study, is that we can change the way we see things, how ‘creative’ we are, and ultimately stimulate innovative ways of thinking in everyone.

A great example of this is Nespresso. Initially introduced to businesses in Switzerland in 1976 with no success, it took the creation of the Nespresso machine to propel it forward, becoming a global consumer product. Eric Favre, the Nestle employee who invented the coffee pod, initially set out to understand how to make the best espresso. He discovered that not only does the capsule offer an ideal environment for coffee brewing, it also gives individual consumers the ability to enjoy it in the comfort of their own home.

Nespresso made a wise decision in giving Favre the resources he needed to explore this idea and ultimately create a business that now employs 13,500 worldwide, is present in 76 countries, and 2017 sales of 68.80 billion pounds.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that innovation can be found everywhere, not just the obvious art, marketing or R&D departments. It can be in accounting, operations, strategy, or like Nespresso, in the packaging department. This ties in with one of The Bakery’s mantras — words we as a company live by; Turn possibilities into innovation — it’s important to not be dismissive as a simple idea could potentially turn into innovation. Taking these ideas into consideration and incubating them properly helps to avoid internal transplant rejection within the corporation.

Moving on to objectives, one must know that innovation is a systematic approach, not an incidental one — meaning that a comprehensive plan must be put into place. This is, in fact, The Bakery’s first and most important mantra — Start with the problem. We know that in order to have an impact, key problems must be identified, refined, and turned into challenges to be solved.

Beginning with a candid conversation with senior managers allows us to identify what is holding them back, which departments are falling behind, how customers needs are changing, if the right people with the right skill-sets are in the right places, etc. Understanding what success looks like for the company helps us to put a plan into place, identifying the most important opportunities, and finding either internal or external experts to solve these challenges, build a new product, or apply an existing solution.

As a final point, given the risky nature of innovation, it’s important to persuade multiple parallel objectives, testing within the company, and scaling the winners.

Some of our favorites quotes from the event:

  • “The present of innovation is collaboration” (and we couldn’t agree more!) — Telefonica
  • “Reinvention happens inside out. I have to change inside to reinvent myself, taking free-courses, broadening your knowledge, exploring new markets, doing new things.” — SageSpain
  • “The biggest challenge when scaling talent for growth is to maintain company culture and don’t lose its values. Additionally, creating a flow of talent is critical for the long term survival of any ecosystem” — Salesforce
  • “If today you have an idea, write it, because this way you commit yourself to make it happen”. “We spend a lot of effort in things that don’t work but we have to experiment” — Amazon

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