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How to Inspire a Culture of Innovation

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The fast-paced business world is focused on results and returns, but truly innovative companies have a culture focused on long-term gains where innovation can thrive. Mauro Porcini, the chief design officer of PepsiCo, argues that true innovation isn't about creating the "next big thing" to capture their fleeting attention. He says companies should instead focus on connecting with customers on a more meaningful level.

Porcini spoke at the World Innovation Forum in New York today about the evolution of "design thinking," a form of creative problem solving. "Design thinking is not a job; it's a lifestyle," he says. "There's no difference for a design thinker between life and work."

He offers these insights to foster a company culture where innovation can thrive.

1. Invest in dreams and aspirations, not just function. Porcini stresses that the most important part of design thinking is understanding and connecting with people. The emotional connection that people have to a product or brand should drive the design. Design thinkers, he says, aren't necessarily designers themselves. Instead, they are people who are curious and listen with humility.

"Design is not just about packaging. It's about people and fulfilling needs," says Porcini. While shiny objects may unlock engagement, customer loyalty comes from how a product or company makes a person feel and the story it tells them about themselves.

People don't just buy a pair of designer shoes because they like the way they look, Porcini says. They buy them because they like the way wearing them makes them feel about themselves and the story it tells the world about who they are. Innovative design tells those stories. "We don't design products. We design experiences," he says.

Related: How Thinking Like a Designer Can Inspire Innovation

2. Listen to customers, but don't give them everything they ask for. Successful, innovative companies cannot design in a vacuum. They need to be in touch with people's wants and needs, but they also need to interpret what the customer says. You can't design by committee, Porcini says. Listen to all ideas, but filter which ones to take on board. True innovation comes from strong leadership and the ability to recognize the best ideas.

You can't solve every problem a customer has, so pick which aspect to focus on and create a new approach to it, Porcini says. If a person pushes on a door that should be pulled, it's not the fault of the user; it's the fault of the designer for not anticipating the problem.

3. Align everyone in the company around the same vision. To create a holistic experience for a customer, your design needs to come from a collaborative environment. Design thinking is a way of approaching life and shouldn't be done solely by those designing the new product or service, Porcini advises. Innovation is not about making money right away, he says. Leadership that rewards only short-term results does not create an environment where creativity and innovation can thrive.

It's important that companies collaborate across all of their business functions, from marketing and advertising to sales and product development. Porcini says this is something that small businesses are better at than large corporations, since they tend to have fewer people and less bureaucracy. Connecting and collaborating with all parts of a business will ensure that when you launch a new product you are delivering a holistic message.

Related: 10 of the Most Innovative Small Businesses of 2013


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