CEOs of consistently best performing companies realise that innovation is the organisation’s ability to create new businesses and profitable growth. And, the weired thing is that the more economic rewards are delivered through innovation, the more the company is further rewarded by the smartest investors, best staff, and of course, loyal Customers. The freshly released Fast Company’s list of ‘The World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies’   for 2011 provides fascinating insights into wiring the business for innovation.

The list’s revolving doors seem to accelerate with the speed corresponding with the pace of business today: 70% of nominated companies this year are newcomers, compared to 60% in 2010; and only three of LY’s new entrants – Huawei, Netflix and Twitter – have made the list again.

Clearly, just as having one hit does not prove star quality musical talent, making the list once doesn’t prove enduring innovation capability.

On the other, a handful of companies consistently feature on the list or return after a year or two of sabatical leave when they were re-grouping and finding their innovation mojo again. Most of them are less than twenty years old, but some are old, iconic brands, that have continued to re-invent themselves, well beyond new product development.

Coco Chanel once said “I don’t want to innovate all the time. I want to create classics.’ The great Dame of fashion was not lazy or lacked creativity. She understood that it is the system, not the product itself, that ensures business longevity.

So what makes a company enduringly innovative?

One such company is IDEO. It has featured on the Fast Company as well as the Business Week list for five years in a row among other stayers: Apple, Google, GE, IBM, Nike, Intel. IDEO’s growing list of clients and expanding scope of work, into services and business and government systems design, are point in case: they are onto a secret of how to create classics.

What has enabled IDEO to seamlessly morph from a classical product design company to a leader in design and innovation with a growing portfolio of service and business concept design briefs?

Last week InnoFuture talked to Tom Kelley, General Manager of IDEO, author of two bestsellers “The Art of Innovation” and “Ten Faces of Innovation” asked for the secret to their success.

Here is Tom’s answer to the question:

The source of consistent wins, be it sport, art or business, is not a random thing. It is a consciously applied system that makes the company unique and allows it to re-invent itself to stay alive and prosper.

As Steve Jobs once said, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”  While this may have been a message on a personal level, it also means that a company cannot adopt someone else’s business model. True innovation is seeing possibilities in what is plainly visible but nobody else can see.

Andy Grove built semiconductor powerhouse Intel on several principles, two of which were “only the paranoid survive” and “constructive confrontation.” That means never rest on your laurels, continually challenge your own assumptions, and always question the status quo. And yes, Intel is one of the companies still on the list.

Our take on IDEO’s secret of evolving, consistent innovation success is this:

  • Pay attention to your process, don’t do things automatically
  • Apply Design Thinking to problems to design new services, processes and culture
  • Consider the three parts of Design Thinking with focus on ‘desirability’, what humans deeply need and want
  • There are major opportunities today in exploring the human factor

What’s your takeaway? Email me.

Coming up in the series of interviwes with IDEO are two more articles:

  • Article #2: The Difference Between Design Thinking and Innovation
  • Article #3: Keeping the Team in Top Shape

Margaret Manson
Chief Inspirator | InnoFuture

InnoFuture helps businesses tailor-source innovation requirements and build innovation momentum as a way-of-life. In the ever changing and evolving world of business innovation we remain unbiased to specific models and tools. Instead, we continually explore and curate new and emerging concepts, tools and expertise; and provide evaluated and synthesized innovation tools and solutions delivered by best providers. If you want to get started or deepen your organisation’s innovation capacity through a culture that enables perpetual reinvention, then we can help.

Contact: Margaret Manson or 0407 661 130