We often hear stories of brilliantly innovative entrepreneurs having fought against all kinds of adversity and challenges to come out on top and create incredibly successful companies; Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Richard Branson to name a few. But when you look a bit closer, at how success is achieved, it becomes clear that successful innovation is a result of smart collaboration rather than singular brilliance.
Professor Linda Hill, co-author of ‘Collective Genius’, has had the opportunity to study some of the world’s most innovative companies. In her Ted Talk, Professor Hill explains that innovation is not about solo genius, rather it’s a much more complex combination of ideas, skills and collaborative co-creation, and ultimately collective genius.
And yet, although every business in the world aims to set itself up for success, innovation at scale is rare. Even companies who were highly creative in their early days tend to lose this ability to innovate as they grow. Take Kodak or Blockbuster, two household names that went by the wayside because they lost the ability to adapt to the changing world around them.
Today change is happening faster than ever. So, if you want your company to be, and remain, successful it’s important to understand the value of continuous learning, diversity and emergence. And above all to value your people.
Companies are like brains, they need to be connected to function. We should think of a company as a system, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts and where the parts include individuals and their relationships. Take away the people and you have assets but no company, take away the relationships and interconnected nature of networks and you have an organisation that isn’t able to learn, adapt or innovate.
Famous examples of how to innovate and collaborate at scale include Tesla, and Netflix the slayer of Blockbuster. Netflix was set up in 1997 in California, by Marc Randolph and Reed Hastings. They started out by posting DVDs. From those humble beginnings, Netflix has grown to become the world’s biggest and most successful online entertainment platform. Over the intervening years, they have become famous for their ability to remain innovative through a culture of collaboration, as they put it #peoplefirst.
Patty McCord helped create the high-performing culture at Netflix, when she was chief talent officer. In her book ‘Powerful’ McCord, writes about her experience of the ‘Netflix culture’ and of the power of collaboration based on trust. A culture that has allowed Netflix to remain agile and innovative and to take advantage of opportunities that emerge. They purposefully avoid doing what many large companies do, which is to resort to implementing processes, such as performance reviews, to manage their workplace. McCord describes this beautifully as “the python of process”, which squeezes tighter and tighter every time something goes wrong. Instead, Netflix relies on a blend of freedom and responsibility; they trust their employees to do the best they can for the organisation in whatever role they have.
Tesla are also well known for pushing innovation and creativity to the max. Most people assume that it’s purely the brilliance of their founder Elon Musk. But despite being a maverick and a creative genius, Musk also understands the importance of connectivity.
In a memo he wrote to his employees a few years ago, Musk explained that if Tesla was to compete with the world’s largest car manufacturers they would have to behave completely differently, because they didn’t have anywhere near the resources of their competitors. He told them that while communicating through formal hierarchies will “enhance the power of the manager, it fails to serve the company.” Instead, Musk invited his workforce to talk to anyone they thought would lead to the fastest way to solve a problem, for the benefit of the whole company. He finished his memo saying it would make no sense for departments to erect barriers between themselves or see their success as relative within the company instead of collectively.
Musk’s memo is a great example of the importance of removing barriers to communication and collaboration, it is also an example of the how trusting the workforce to do the best for the company as a whole, is something that is both top down and bottom up.
Today, as we move into the 4th Industrial Revolution, where data is the new oil, the world around us is more connected than ever. The traditional top-down, hierarchical approach of running a business, which was effective in taking forward the advances of the Industrial Revolution is no longer fit for purpose. We need to find new ways to collaborate, ways that put people first and ensure the workplace is engaging, fulfilling and adds value to our everyday lives. Where people are encouraged to collaborate.
There are a growing number of fascinating examples of companies that care about their people and the planet are proving to be highly successful. Gore-tex, Patagonia and Buurtzorg are some of the best known. A pattern is beginning to emerge, in which relationships, diversity and wellbeing are good for business. We have developed U>P (Unlocking more than Potential), a SaaS B2B analytics platform, to provide data driven insights into the levels of collaboration within any company, so they can replicate the success of the businesses mentioned above.
U>P is a cloud-based, people analytics platform that provides a diagnosis of a whole system. A bit like an MRI scan of the brain. The insights obtained help diagnose the strengths and weaknesses that exist in the interconnections, so the whole system can be seen. The insights lead to opportunities for greater transparency and continuous improvement that leads to increasing levels of trust, fundamental to ownership and inclusion.
If you’d like to invest in a culture of collaboration and looking for tools that can help make that journey more effective, get in touch for a free demo and learn how U>P can unlock the potential of your company and its networks for intelligent collaboration at scale.