When we walk into most large, traditional corporate organisations, the one thing they all have in common is the inability and reluctance to change; to accept new ideas, take risks and embrace failure. It’s the constant, “we don’t have time for new ideas.”
At Google, ideas permeate every single part of the organisation from the executives building strategy to the developers writing code – it’s part of their DNA.
Any idea, however valuable, will reach the right people at the right time. This is partly since they don’t have to go through the same hierarchical process most ideas go through in rank orientated, autocratic systems. There is far greater cross-functional working, more skillsets coming together at the right time to deliver new ideas and change the business. Senior Vice President of Google’s People Operations highlighted this,
We try to have as many channels for expression as we can, recognizing that different people, and different ideas, will percolate up in different ways,
Google uses their homemade innovation management solution to help employees find exciting ideas, find answer to problems and create new workstreams with colleagues (He, 2013) . With the advancement of emerging technologies i.e. robotic process automation, natural language processing and machine learning the workplace is changing and that means there is an amazing opportunity for businesses to embrace new ideas and embed change.
Starting with the psyche, if we approach everything we do; whether it is day-to-day task, a project or a long-term strategy and see it as only the version it is today, it is entirely possible that tomorrow it will be improved either radically or incrementally. Only then can we start to embed the innovative mindset in the way we work. It certainly doesn’t happen overnight, and it may take new generations who are used to learning multiple skillsets, enabled by technology, for it to become the norm. But it must be the aim. At Google, from day one, employees are encouraged, supported and nurtured to think and be this way and so new ideas are born and die constantly, in huge quantities. The possibilities being explored are exponentially increased just by a constant drive for change. The well-known 20 percent projects which gave birth to Google news, Gmail and AdSense are a perfect example of this way of thinking in action (D’Onfro, 2015).
More time for ideas
Robotic process automation is driving enormous efficiencies in businesses as it replaces repetitive tasks people have always done. This will free up enormous amounts of resource and time for organisations to focus on innovation. The fear is that these savings, instead of being invested in innovation and training, will be passed on to shareholders. As the economy evolves, and new generations are trained in new skills, we will see new business functions opening. Huge innovation and creative departments employing people trained in new business methodologies and approaches with the freedom to explore, fail and succeed with new concepts. This is basically what Google is, a huge innovation department, everyone playing a part in creating tomorrow. This transition will not be easy – A survey conducted by The World Economic Forum, of company executives representing 15 million workers across 20 countries, found that half of all workplace tasks in existence at their firms today could be performed by machines by 2025. If governments and businesses do not start investing heavily in training and education, talented and previously skilled white-collar workers will find themselves as part of the skills gap desperately playing catch up to new generations that are far more mobile, used to change and tech savvy.
The problem with starting from step 1
Innovation is rapidly becoming more structured. As organisations start to use tools to manage their innovation, they are beginning to capture a huge amount of ideas, collaboration, decision making and behavioural data. They are building a corporate memory or knowledge bank of every piece of work, analysis or decision ever made with new ideas and projects. This information is invaluable. With most innovation projects, the team will begin at step one, whether that be understanding the problem or getting to the build, they have zero visibility of what other teams are doing in other countries or departments and have little or no visibility of previous projects. There is probably someone in the business that has worked on something similar, but who are they?
What if, when starting my project, I could input the brief into a tool and using natural language processing to have it automatically surface any ideas that have also solved that problem or met that goal? Or automatically surface ideas that either solve the problem or in some part would be useful to be me; maybe a bit of code? Some market research? A pitch deck? Suddenly I’m not starting from step one anymore – I’m using the corporate memory to prepopulate my virtual white board with parts of the solution already completed. Ideas are now permeating through the business, not just through culture but through technology. We can go further and use machine learning to suggest the team members that should be working on the project, not based on department or job title but on their previous work on innovative projects. This is what I see as the next step in innovation management for large businesses – at Wazoku we have developed a new suite of AI tools with the aim of connecting ideas with problems and people automatically. Most businesses are getting better at understanding their data and there is huge value in it for them, however they are still struggling to see the value in the human data – people’s ideas.
So we need to invest now in training and education for those workers who will be first to go when robots do their task, change our psyche to always look for the change in everything small or big and start using technology to build up a corporate memory so that we can use emerging technologies to help make better, smarter connections in our business to supercharge innovation.