• Granting Permission to Innovate

    by Tim Brown

    I’m thinking about the notion of strategic resilience. In the face of growing unpredictability, how do we provide ourselves with appropriate options for the future? How do we leverage the increasing interconnectedness of our markets without becoming victims of those connections? Singular, one-dimensional strategy is now outdated and risky. From a biological perspective, resilience means having multiple options for survival. Species that can emerge to address a need, for example, make ecosystems resilient.

    Certain companies—the big examples are Amazon, Apple, and Google—have avoided the one-strategy trap by relying on what I think of as “permission to innovate.” They’ve magnified anticipation of and tolerance for innovation among their customers, partners, employees, and stockholders and managed to sustain it over time. Permission to innovate makes these companies tremendously good at deploying multiple strategies for growth. It allows them to create credible offerings in adjacent markets and to be forgiven for and learn from mistakes. Look at the iPhone 4, which despite its problems is the best-selling phone Apple has ever made and is highly anticipated in China and other new markets. That’s because everyone knows there will be an iPhone 5. Marketing alone can’t explain such an advantage—it stems from what a company is and what possibilities it creates for consumers.

    When people talk about building a culture of innovation, they tend to focus on what’s happening inside a company—and that’s clearly part of it. At IDEO we’re looking at how to build our clients’ capacity for continual innovation through organizational design. But permission to innovate also involves the culture an organization creates out in the world.

    How should we assess a company’s permission to innovate? Could we create a brand innovation quotient—a set of measures that, taken together, would allow us to value a company’s capacity to innovate consistently? It would be interesting to quantify the extra market value gained from the anticipation of innovation. We could look at less-direct benefits as well, such as the effect on a company’s ability to attract the best employees. In the past we’ve struggled to find effective measures for innovation and growth. I believe in the notion that what you can’t measure you can’t get better at. So we need to get the metrics right.

     

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