Over the past year, I’ve spent considerable time researching what makes companies innovative and how those attributes, methodologies, styles, and practices can be repurposed for organizations and schools striving to inspire innovation. It has been an interesting journey and here are a few commonalities from some of the most innovative companies in the world:
3 Innovation Tips from Amazon, Apple, and Google:
- Take risks and pursue perfection but don’t wait for an idea to be perfect before trying it.
- Look through the lens of the student/staff. Empathy builds trust.
- Be a good teammate – be respectful, inclusive, and open-minded.
Be willing to fail in pursuit of perfection.
Steve Jobs, Apple’s co-founder, and former CEO approached every new product with a relentless need to perfect it for the end user. He believed in simplicity, and one of his key leadership principles was “say no to 1,000 things.” While developing the iPhone, other phone companies were adding as many bells and whistles as possible; Steve focused on making the most important features simple to use for their benchmark product.
When you are working with little people, failure doesn’t seem worth the risk. What if you succeed and students or staff are more engaged, become energized, and inspired? Will the risk seem worth it then? If you try an alternative method for delivering a lesson, hosting training, or running a staff meeting and it fails, what harm has been done? Can you deliver the content again, differently? Can you provide the training or information through an alternative means after the fact? Most likely, the answer is yes. Some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs took calculated risks, so if a change makes you nervous, start small and build your confidence.
Stephen Covey’s 2nd of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is “Begin with the end in mind.” What do you want to achieve? What are your goals? Begin relentlessly pursuing them and pursue perfection, but don’t wait until your idea is perfect. If you wait until the perfect time or perfect situation, you will never start.
Look through the lens of the customer (in our case – students or staff).
When Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos meets with his teams, he puts an empty chair in the room representing the customer. He attests that every decision should be made with the customer in mind. This strategy showcases one method Amazon uses to achieve their mission and keeps the customer at the center of the conversation.
“Our vision is to be earth’s most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”
As educators, we have the opportunity to look through the lens of our staff and students. What does it feel like to be in a staff meeting you are running? What does it feel like to be a student in your classroom? Sit in a student desk and simply look around. How does the room feel? What do you see? Sit in every seat. Consider videotaping yourself from the back of the room. While watching the video, pay attention to the body language of the students or staff.
Next time you have a staff meeting, professional learning community meeting or team meeting, place an empty chair in the room and see if the conversation changes. The chair acts as a reminder of your audience.
Build Successful Teams
The first key to success is hiring the right people. In the early days of Google, founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page wanted to hire the brightest minds to join their company looking for Ivy League graduates. They quickly learned that what’s most important is to hire people who can solve problems and get results. In fact, Laszlo Bock, Senior Vice President of Google Operations says “Google hires for capability and learning ability before we hire for expertise.”
For all teams:
Google set out to find the secret to building productive teams, so naturally, they formed a team to study it. The team set out to complete Project Aristotle interviewing one hundred and eighty people within the company over two years.
Google’s 5 Keys to Successful Teams:
- Psychological safety – team members should feel comfortable taking risks without fear
- Dependability – everyone contributes and does their job to the best of their ability
- Structure and clarity – everyone should understand their role on the team and how they should go about getting their job accomplished successfully
- Meaning – work should be meaningful and personally important to each team member
- Impact – members of the team feel their work matters and creates change
Teams make work fun and produce great results when they are high functioning. One article that summarized Project Aristotle’s findings distilled them into two words, “be nice.” Consider establishing team norms to ensure success and accountability.
As students venture into the workforce, the ability to collaborate, creatively contributing to a variety of cross-functional teams, ranks as one of the most coveted skills employers are seeking. Most innovation occurs within teams where ideas transform and improve building on diverse experiences and perspectives.
“Articles About Most Innovative Companies and This Year’s Highlights.” Fast Company. Web. 11 Apr. 2017.
“Google Project Aristotle – 5 Keys to Team Success.” TechTarget. Web. 22 Apr. 2017.
Pastore, Rose. “Announcing The 2017 World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies.” Fast Company. Fast Company, 08 Mar. 2017. Web. 21 Apr. 2017.