Are you sick and tired of hearing the word “innovation”? Then you really need to read what Google’s Head of Innovation Dr. Frederik G. Pferdt has to say. Maybe it will end up changing your opinion.
Almost every company describes itself as innovative. Can we still take the word seriously, Mr. Pferdt?
Frederik Pferdt: Actually, we can’t take it seriously enough! Without innovation there wouldn’t be any progress. And every company, however traditional and established, has to undergo change to guarantee its long-term survival.
Still, many people today react negatively when their boss starts talking about an “innovation culture.”
Often, companies simply present themselves as being innovative and creative. But it’s not enough to just set up a foosball table and a Playstation in the break room.
So what do they need to do instead?
They have to create a culture where a new way of thinking becomes standard practice and where there are incentives to think and act in an innovative way. Employees have to be inspired by what they do.Give them a mission, a great idea that they can pursue together. And that only works if the boss is committed to this idea, as well. Secondly, transparency is important. Whenever something is restructured within a company, it is vital that the employees are involved. They need the chance to participate and actively shape the process. Thirdly, everyone should be given a voice. Criticism and feedback should be allowed – and if someone has questions, they have to be answered.
Sounds like a lot of hard work.
That’s exactly the excuse I hear again and again when it comes to innovation and creativity. I meet so many chief executives and managers who tell me: “We’re far too traditional and established, that won’t work at our company.” I always advise those kinds of companies to start off on a small scale – the most important thing is just to start in the first place!
The only question is where and how?
As a manager, you should reward employees who’ve taken a risk, regardless of whether the project was successful or not. You’ll soon see that this incentive encourages a certain type of behavior within the team. Or when you hire a new employee, for example: here, you don’t have to involve the department in the entire application process, but you can at least introduce the final two or three candidates to the other staff. First, they will automatically choose the applicant who fits best in the team, and second, they’ll feel valued. This is something that can be implemented quickly and economicallywithout much effort.
Do you have any more advice?
Change often means uncertainty. To dispel any skepticism or perhaps even fear that employees may have, managers need to give them a feeling of safety and security. We’ve carried out a detailed study on this over the last three years and discovered that there are certain factors that distinguish successful and productive teams from less successful and unproductive ones. “Psychological safety” is one of these factors. Employees have to know that they’re allowed to make mistakes.
Okay, but not too many, right?
I’ve never met anyone who makes mistakes on purpose. Neither at Google, nor at Stanford, where I teach a lot of very gifted students. But everyone wants to learn It’s inevitable that they’ll make a mess of a project or two in the process. The important thing here is to let your employees know that this is okay as long as they learn something from it.
That sounds so easy. So why does it rarely work in practice?
At Google, we work on our innovation culture every single day. Each year, I train several thousand employees to become more creative and more open. We offer them an environment where they feel comfortable and are able to flourish. We give them a lot of freedoms. Our starting point is the belief that, given these freedoms, employees will surprise you in a positive way. That is central to our success. Putting this culture into place takes longer than a few weeks or months, and that strikes many companies as too complicated and too lengthy a process. Instead of setting themselves a long-term goal, they often bury their heads in the sand and carry on as before. Managers should really just give their teams the greatest possible freedom and trust them 100 percent – they will be surprised by what happens.