We continually ask ourselves, “Could we be doing things differently and better? What’s that next arc we’re creating?” The answers have sparked some of our best ideas.
High-growth companies thrive on innovation and challenging the status quo. But maintaining that forward momentum over the long term takes continued effort. It’s easy to coast on past successes or be satisfied with incremental improvements, but if that becomes the norm, you start to miss opportunities for growth and lose ground to competitors.
At Eyewitness Surveillance, we started creating a culture of innovation early on. As we have grown, the approach has changed, but we continually ask ourselves, “Could we be doing things differently and better? What’s that next arc we’re creating?” The answers have sparked some of our best ideas.
Learn to differentiate between “good” and “bad” inertia
Being able to recognize the inertia that’s holding your company back is the first step in fighting it. A certain amount of inertia is okay. It means you’ve discovered something that works and is repeatable, even to the point of being a competitive advantage. In this respect, too much change or innovation can be disruptive.
But you don’t want to keep doing things just because it’s the way you’ve always done them. Identifying harmful inertia is critical, and it needs to happen before you start losing that competitive advantage or your performance against key metrics declines.
The best time to spot inertia is when the status quo is still helping you improve, but the rate of improvement has slowed. Are you starting to lose ground to the competition? Is the upward curve that tracks your speed of innovation starting to flatten? If so, it’s time to think about creating the next arc to overtake it.
The best time to spot inertia is when the status quo is still helping you improve, but the rate of improvement has slowed.
Create your own “Innovation Nation”
Pushing past the forces of inertia is not as easy as telling your team, “Go innovate more.” People need help to generate ideas and fresh perspectives. As a CEO, it is your responsibility to create the stimulus that inspires them to look at themselves, their teams and their processes in a new way.
At Eyewitness, we make sure that everyone in the company is regularly exposed to this type of stimulus. Early on, we launched “Innovation Nation” to encourage employees to look beyond the security industry (where we play) and explore ideas from related industries. We wanted them to cross-pollinate rather than simply look to other companies in our space for inspiration. We came together once a year to share ads, videos, materials or ideas that moved us and to brainstorm ways to apply them to our company—a simple approach, but very effective.
For example, Google’s Dear Sophie commercial helped us rethink the way we interacted with our customers. In a digital age, it’s hard to make things feel personal, but Google’s take on technology inspired us to ask ourselves: “How do we do a better job of personalizing our services? And how do we do it without a Google-sized budget?”
Ultimately, we launched our Write Equals Reward program, where employees can earn rewards when they send handwritten thank you notes to customers. It’s such a small thing, but writing thank you notes has made a big impact. Our customers hang these notes on their office walls and email us to let us know how meaningful it is to receive something written by hand in a digital age.
Another example is TD Canada Trust’s Automated Thanking Machine customer appreciation campaign. Again, it’s an idea from a totally different industry, but it inspired us to think about ways we could show customers that we appreciate them. We realized we could help our customers in the automotive industry get featured in their local papers by pitching good-news stories about the jobs they were creating. It raised their stature in the community, made them the heroes, and showed them that we understand and appreciate the value that they bring to their local areas.
Evolve the approach to innovation as you grow
As our company continues to grow, it’s no longer practical to bring everyone together for an in-person Innovation Nation once a year. We’ve had to find new ways to stimulate innovative thinking among our employees, and we landed on the idea of a speakers’ series. Every month or two, we bring in speakers from industries that are very different from ours to share their perspectives via teleconference.
Speakers have included:
- A leading technology CEO who shared insight on the operational and cultural dynamics of building high-growth, rapidly evolving companies in the digital music space.
- A Pro Bowl professional football player who had to adapt to the realities of his changing physical abilities by adapting his strategy and finding new ways to overcome his opponents when strength and agility alone weren’t enough. His story made us think about how we could do a better job of planning ahead to ensure our company’s continued resilience.
- A swimmer whose Olympic dreams ended when a bus crash killed two of her teammates and left her seriously injured. She turned that life-changing experience into a new career as a writer, and her story inspired us to think about how we can turn setbacks into opportunities to become stronger and more powerful.
- A three-star marine general whose plan for the Battle of Fallujah was challenged by someone of a lower rank. By choosing to listen with an open mind, the general was able to pivot to a different and better plan. His story gave us new ideas for building a culture where people with less experience or different perspectives are heard.
Gaining exposure to ideas and people of this caliber is within any company’s reach. We don’t use an expensive speakers’ bureau, we just reach out directly. We have found that people will share their stories with us simply because we ask, and because they are gratified to know that their wisdom can change other people’s lives and businesses for the better. The next time you have a conversation with someone who inspires you, take advantage of the moment and ask them then and there whether they would consider sharing their experiences. Chances are, they’ll be more than happy to.
Gaining exposure to ideas and people of this caliber is within any company’s reach. We don’t use an expensive speakers’ bureau, we just reach out directly.
Create a safe space where everyone’s ideas are heard and valued
While the approach to supporting innovation will evolve as you grow, there’s one constant: your company needs to remain a safe place where ideas can flow freely without getting shut down by criticism. We have trained our team leads to be open and receptive to ideas no matter where or who they come from. We even changed the language we use to share ideas: instead of asking “What do you think?” which invites criticism, we are teaching our people to say, “Can you help me build on this idea?” which invites additive, collaborative thinking.
Here’s the bottom line.
Repeatable processes drive efficiency, but they can also lead to complacency and inertia. Supporting a culture of innovation takes time and effort, but your company should never stop questioning and improving the status quo. This important task can’t be left up to the individual: you need to actively create those opportunities for people to gain exposure to new perspectives, to think differently and to share their ideas fearlessly.