The way to inspire innovation within an organization is with clarity and conviction of a vision. You cannot tiptoe your way into innovation. You must commit to a clear direction so that employees, shareholders, customers and partners all share your belief. When everyone shares the same set of beliefs, the result is an unmatched innovation engine.
A shared belief around a powerful vision has more impact than any other factor in driving positive change. It gives everyone involved the confidence to commit to making that vision a reality. If there is any ambiguity or any second guessing, the already hard task of creating new value gets a lot harder.
From Moore’s Law to the Space Program
In 1965, Gordon Moore, then a relatively unknown co-founder of Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel Corporation wrote a paper that included a hard-to-believe forecast: the number of transistors in an integrated circuit chip would double every year, and would continue doing so for the next decade. Today this prediction, (now slightly revised to doubling every two years) is known as Moore’s Law.
Moore’s Law did not follow scientific principles. Rather, it was a prediction of measurable outcomes and a defined time period. It was a vision that soon became a law. And while there was no guarantee that chip capacity would double every two years, everyone believed in Moore’s Law. Everyone followed it, everyone expected it to be true and everyone planned for it.
Since people believed computers would become more powerful, they could dream up scenarios and write applications that weren’t possible using the current processing power. People could innovate freely because they had confidence that by the time their innovations became available computing power would have increased enough for users to take advantage of the new capabilities they were developing.
The shared belief around Moore’s Law is responsible for the growth of the computer industry and the largest wave of innovation in human history.
Just a few years before Moore’s vision, in 1961, then President John F. Kennedy made an equally remarkable call to action. He stated, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”
Another bold statement without all the necessary elements in hand to realize the claim. But it was clear, time bound and the outcome was measurable. This became a shared belief and everyone involved in the space program played their roles making this a reality in 1969.
A bold vision was realized, once again showing the power of a shared belief.
The more you articulate a clear vision, the more likely you are to inspire your team to work together to make it real. Belief empowers people to imagine and then take necessary actions to make the vision true.
Bill Gates and The Internet Tidal Wave
In 1995, Microsoft wasn’t nearly as large as it is today. However, it was still a formidable $8 billion company with 20,000 employees, riding the top of a fantastic wave it helped create: the PC revolution. As a rapidly growing company with no apparent obstacles, it could have been drawn into a tunnel vision to continue pushing along a PC-focused course. However, outside the company there were increasing rumblings about this thing that was growing popular in universities: The Internet.
The Microsoft CEO Bill Gates began to take notice.
Gates sent out a landmark memo asking his executive team to bet the company on the internet. In the memo, labelled “The Internet Tidal Wave” Gates shared a prescient view that every PC would soon be connected to the internet and outlined the risks to Microsoft if they did not fully embrace an internet-centric future.
Most companies in Microsoft’s position might have done too little, continuing happily down a profitable path until it was too late. Yet Gates saw the risks with the coming change. In his memo, he prescribed a plan for every division of the company to bet on the internet; not in a small way, but all-in. He even laid out specific actions for what each part of the company should do to embrace this new “tidal wave.”
Almost overnight, Microsoft went from having no Internet capabilities to embracing the internet in every single thing it did. As we know today, the internet indeed did change everything. For Microsoft, it was a clear and compelling vision from the CEO to adopt a new way of thinking that helped the company innovate and thrive during the biggest tectonic shift in the industry.
An Innovation First Step
The first step for a company’s leadership is to make clear, through words and action, that innovation is a priority. Making innovation a shared belief has to go far beyond appointing an innovation czar or developing an innovation dashboard. It requires thinking about innovation in everything you do. It requires not accepting mediocrity and making sure that every offering, big or small enhances a customer experience in a meaningful way.
You cannot be timid about your vision. The way to get to a state of shared belief is to live the vision you are sharing. In the Microsoft example, there was nothing wishy-washy about Gates’ intention to embrace the Internet. His total commitment gave managers the confidence to think differently and try new things.
In contrast, many leaders fail to act with conviction, or they tiptoe their way into new areas with the goal of learning along the way. These efforts usually fail. The lack of full and total commitment prevents success. Many companies today embrace a launch-fast, learn-fast, fail-fast philosophy, but this only works if your offering is given a real chance of success.
What you can learn from Startups
Unlike established corporations, startups don’t have the luxury of selecting what projects to prioritize, or of approving or rejecting one of several competing business plans in front of them. Nor do startups have existing franchises or product lines to worry about growing or cannibalizing. They usually have one idea, and they can only make it work if they go all-in and if everyone shares in the same belief of success or failure. Startups make a full and total commitment to their idea and then do the best job they can around execution.
If corporations want to learn from startups, then it is this mindset they should adopt. Not startup techniques or startup culture or cool offices or a Kombucha bar. It is the shared belief and total commitment to a cause that every organization needs to implement, regardless of its size.
This is what breeds a culture of creating repeated breakthroughs.