Innovation a Problem? Go Back to 'Day One' the Way Amazon Constantly Does.
It’s hard to imagine that a company like Amazon is going anywhere any time soon. Decades after ignoring the scoffing of traditional booksellers and launching an online bookstore, Amazon has become a staple of the modern world that would be difficult, if not impossible, to replace. Yet, for all its appearance as a bedrock company, the attitude of Jeff Bezos belies this image.
Despite Amazon's titan status, Bezos continues to treat the business as a scrappy startup, where he constantly tries to innovate and experiment with new product categories. Despite being nearly a quarter century old, Amazon continues to operate as, in Bezos's terms, a "day one" company. In his 2017 letter to his shareholders, Bezos laid out in clear and bold terms why this is:
“Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”
These words may sound melodramatic, but Bezos’s "day one" approach is why Amazon is as big as it is and why it has found success in such far-reaching offerings as smart speakers and cloud storage. The approach is also one that many other companies -- whether they're made up of 10 employees or 10,000 -- should take to heart.
Warning: Complacency kills companies
One of the biggest mistakes businesses make, whether they’re first starting out or are as big as Amazon, is thinking that because things are going smoothly right now, they’ll continue to go smoothly forever. A company can go from figuring things out to setting its processes in stone pretty quickly, putting everything on autopilot and slowly stifling innovation. Any mistake or idea that might rock the boat is looked at as a problem rather than an opportunity to learn, and the status quo is reinforced every day.
Microsoft is a shining example of a company that coasted for too long and as a result ceded the mobile world to its competitors. It became trapped by its own success, relying too much on a culture of "yes people" and therefore inadvertently blocking internal innovation.
Since Satya Nadella took over, the attitude of “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” has changed. Nadella has overseen restructuring within the company that encourages innovation and the strategic purchases of new busineses (like that of GitHub) to create better relationships with developers both inside and outside its company.
Nadella is actively bringing Microsoft into a world that companies like Amazon, Google and Basecamp already live in -- the same world in which agile startups dwell.
Nadella is a prime example of a leader investing in innovation, instead of continuing to coast. He’s also showing that -- no matter the size, no matter how set in its ways -- a company can still invest in innovation, even if it doesn’t have $7.5 billion to do it.
"Push" it real good.
While Amazon and Microsoft are huge companies, a company doesn’t need their level of resources to invest in innovation. Small businesses, too, can implement simple strategies and invest in key areas to bring ingenuity and creativity back into the workplace. Some strategies include:
1. Foster intrapreneurs. Intrapreneurship is responsible for a variety of innovations from major companies. Products that range from 3M’s Post-it Note to Sony’s PlayStation owe their start to entrepreneurs housed within big businesses. So, at your own company, cultivate people whose sole responsibility is to spearhead new endeavors. Encourage everyone to work on projects separate from their daily duties -- ones whose success or failure won’t affect their job security.
Dedicate resources and people to support innovation, especially from the team’s IT department, and make sure higher-ups are available to approve new ideas further down the chain of command. The key is to have vocal and visible support for new ideas within the company so that that next million-dollar idea doesn’t stay just an idea.
2. Host town halls and embrace crowdsourcing. The best innovators work collaboratively, pulling from a pool of great ideas and executing them quickly. If failure happens, the idea is discarded. For many CTOs or IT teams, this can seem like a scary proposition. Once acclimated to the practice, however, these same groups realize how liberating it is to try something new and see how the intended audience reacts.
Even old, firmly established businesses like GE have taken collaboration to heart. The company has broken down the information silos that were once common between its businesses and is now utilizing crowdsourcing to open up innovation within the company and to obtain direct input from its customers.
Regularly host town halls or team meetings to brainstorm new ideas and make sure strategies are aligned with the overall objectives of the business. It’s not necessary to solve every challenge within a single meeting, but each meeting should facilitate the incubation of ideas. These ideas, in turn, can be used to build solutions that will help the company as a whole.
3. Bring in outside help. By its nature, innovation means working outside of the way things have always happened. Internal IT teams shouldn’t be worried or protective when an innovation agency is brought on to look at a problem -- quite the opposite. These innovators want to help IT teams and CTO groups accomplish their goals and use as many internal resources as possible to make it happen.
Related: The Power of Innovation
Innovation agencies are tracked by the successes they give their clients: The more they can spur innovation, the more likely it is that they’ll be brought back in future. Being exposed to this mindset from an outside agency can add up to a cultural mind shift within the company. The focus shifts to looking for new and exciting ideas that can change the company rather than seeking ways to further the status quo.
Sometimes, fostering innovation within a company means investing in others, much in the way Microsoft purchased GitHub. Other times, it simply means investing in the people within the business itself. The spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship can be cultivated in companies of every size. Companies just need to be willing to shake things up.