Inspiring and Cultivating Innovation within Our Employees
April 11, 2017
Guest Blogger: Brad Feldmann, president and CEO
“Innovation…” It’s quite possibly, one of the most overused buzzwords of the 21st century. Despite that, it is difficult to argue that in technology, healthcare, design and many other industries, innovating is critical to success. The alternative is stagnation. But what does being innovative really mean? And how can companies underline the importance of being innovative in their employees? Why should it matter?
I am an engineer by training, which instilled a problem-solving mindset in me. When I meet with our customers, they often tell me of problems in their businesses. Even though these problems may have nothing to do with our work with them, still I find myself immediately thinking about how we can help to solve those problems. It could be approaching service delivery in new ways or maybe simplifying overly complex processes. To me, innovation is not just about creating something “new,” it’s about constantly reinventing, collaborating and generating ideas to make our world a more efficient and safer place. When I became president and CEO of Cubic almost three years ago, I set myself a priority of finding ways to promote and keep innovation embedded within our culture. It has always been part of our “DNA,” but I wanted to be achieving breakthroughs more often.
Our market and our competition stretches around the world. If we’re not continuously transforming and innovating, we will fall behind our competition. At Cubic, as everywhere else, innovation is not about technology or engineering. It is about people. It is about understanding our customers, the challenges they face and thinking about what we can do, that we haven’t done before, to help them. It applies across the business. Everyone in the business is an innovator to one degree or another because thinking about ‘the new’ is not a business process – it is a state of mind. It is an attitude. Innovation is not about airy-fairy science projects, but more about solving pain points for our customers and in turn, generating new revenue streams for our company.
It’s critical for leaders to instill a desire and drive for constant change and growth. So what can we do to build and maintain a culture of innovation?
- Promote visionary ways of thinking – Being innovative isn’t just about being imaginative. It’s a combination of theoretical, thoughtful and critical thinking infused with the energy and determination to get things done. At Cubic, and most other organizations, people identify problems and work to solve them in different ways. Always value diverse and creative thinking, since it can be where some of the best ideas come from.
- Encourage teamwork and recognize individuality – Innovation is often born from the collaborative thinking of a team and its individuals. Shake the teams up, introduce new ways of looking at things, let your employees work with those who will use or service their products and output. A new perspective rarely brings anything but benefit to any team. Identify the strong traits of each member of your group, give them creative freedom and work to shape them into a well-meshed team. Immersed, diverse and dedicated teams are the keys to progress.
- Every idea matters and should be rewarded – It’s essential to share and promote the belief that every idea, whether big or small is valuable. In 2014, we developed IdeaSpark – an internal social system where our employees can share their ideas and ask for their colleagues’ views. It’s become an open forum that allows anyone at Cubic, to discuss the ideas and work in progress that could benefit our customers. We also have a “tech council” that regularly selects ideas to advance to the ‘make-it-real’ stage. We make our selections using a portfolio approach whether the ideas are long-term, short-term, incremental or game-changing. An idea that qualifies for a certain stage has the opportunity for seed funding, prototype production and development into a full solution or service. Since the inception of IdeaSpark, more than 245 ideas have been submitted, 136 catalogued, 106 advanced to ‘make-it-real’ and many will go into production.
There is no single way to innovate – this is how we do it at Cubic. Technology will continue its rapid development and will open up more opportunities. It is up to us all to respond in ever new ways. No organization will ever succeed and thrive without its people and their creativity. This is how exceptional products and new solutions are discovered, which can only help make our world better.
Check out the post also on Brad's LinkedIn.