One of our favorite speakers at the Front End of Innovation Conference (FEI) this year was Greg Brandeau, former EVP and CTO at The Walt Disney Studios and former SVP at Pixar. His talk centered on a book he co-authored called Collective Genius, which provides insight on how to create a culture of innovation in business. He presented a simple, yet compelling, definition of innovation: any change that is both novel and useful. It can be any type of change—a business process, an approach to customer service, a new product idea, or an old idea applied in a new way.
As he was speaking, we were struck by how many of his key points aligned with themes from an all-company meeting we had both attended earlier in the day. CMB is constantly looking for ways to continue innovating across our organization, so perhaps that’s why this speaker resonated with us. Here are a few key takeaways:
- Decision-focused point-of-view: In order to be innovative, a business must have a focused point-of-view that drives towards a specific objective. Creating alignment within innovatively driven organizations can be challenging, but necessary. This enables all employees to work toward the same goal and take the risks to get there.
- No one walks on water: Greg debunked the myth that innovation is an idea or solution that comes all at once to a single person. The reality is that innovation is a team sport, which involves gathering ideas, gaining knowledge, doing research, getting feedback, evolving the ideas, etc. Everyone in the organization has something to offer, and it’s the leader’s job to identify what that is. Need an example? When Vineet Nayar took over India-based HCL, he admitted that he didn’t know exactly how to set up the struggling brand for success, so he pulled together a team of young employees and told them to come up with a plan. By embracing a new style of leadership, the company’s sales increased dramatically over the next few years.
- Collaboration is key: Creating a genuine sense of community is necessary for nurturing innovation. Community exists at the intersection of a shared purpose, shared values, and rules of engagement within the organization that define how individuals and teams behave, interact, and think about solutions. Truly innovative groups are able to elicit and combine members’ separate slices of genius into a collective one.
- Learning culture: During Greg’s career at Pixar, he spoke of a time when they nearly lost all the data from Toy Story 2. Since Greg was ultimately in charge of making sure something like this did not happen, he immediately went to Steve Jobs and turned in his resignation letter, assuming he would be fired. Steve didn’t accept it, however, reasoning that Greg had learned from his error and that it would set a bad example within the organization if someone was fired over a mistake. The takeaway? Employees might be less likely to try something new or take a chance in the future if they’re constantly worried about the possible repercussions of failure.
Tomorrow’s leaders are tasked with driving—not just executing— innovation. The leaders that will be most successful at evolving their organizations will be those who:
- Shape the context for their employees, rather than mandate the direction
- Amplify, rather than minimize, differences among employees and their teams
- Create communities of people who innovate rather than expect employees to be followers who execute
At CMB, we’re willing to take chances (on ideas and employees), which ultimately leads to a committed culture that is striving to be better. Is your company?
Heather Magaw is the VP of Client Services. This was her first year attending the Front End of Innovation Conference, but it won’t be her last. They hooked her with the fresh fruit infused water as well as the host of great speakers.
Jen Golden is a Project Manager on the Tech/e-Commerce team. This was also her first time at FEI, and she was happy to hear that almost losing all the Toy Story 2 data helped foster creativity at Pixar, which enabled the creation of characters like Wall-E, Dory, and Mike Wazowski.
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