Innovation is no longer optional; companies must continuously improve or risk being outcompeted.
For inspiration, we can look to Japanese business practice of kaizen. Most commonly known via Toyota, ‘kaizen’ translates to ‘improvements’ and has evolved to mean continuous improvement and innovation in business. At Toyota, where anyone working in the factory can stop a whole assembly line to report a problem or suggest a solution to reduce waste or increase efficiency, innovation must filter to all parts and to every person in the organization.
Let’s look at other ways companies have made innovation part of the fabric of their business.
Autonomy & Inclusivity
Whole Foods Market is an example of administration innovation. With about 430 store locations and more than $15B in revenue in 2015, WFM is the largest natural foods chain in the world. Most large retailers break down decision-making management by store. Whole Foods breaks it down even further: at Whole Foods Market, every single department - fresh produce, deli, seafood, etc. - has autonomy for their decisions like what to stock and who to hire. Team members also have access to comprehensive financial data including salaries of top executives, which never exceed 14x the company average.
Innovation from everyone, everywhere
Whirlpool, one of the largest household appliances manufacturers in the world, faced a major brand loyalty problem in the late nineties, an industry stalemate often referred to as the ‘sea of white.’ Consumers didn’t seem to care which brand of appliances they purchased, and Whirlpool needed to change that. The CEO decided to reinvent the processes by which the company is managed: they decided to prioritize innovation.
The CEO knew that all employees would have to become participants of the innovation efforts, not just special teams or executives. This initiative changed Whirlpool forever. At Whirlpool, innovation comes from everyone and everywhere.
Every company employee got enrolled in an online innovation course. Innovation became a huge factor top-management bonus plan -- to do this, Whirlpool had to effectively quantify innovation. The CEO says, “In a large organization like ours you cannot just ask people to innovate and expect that it is going to happen. It requires a holistic management system to define it, to make it sustainable, scalable and inescapable.”
Problems in the world are endless, and so are the innovative ways your products and services can solve these problems. Merely improving what you do isn’t enough anymore -- think big, think ahead, and listen to ideas. They can come from anywhere.