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BEI 14 Key Note: Why Corporate Innovation Activities Fail

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Iliya Rybchin of the Highnote Foundry and formally of Bloomberg discusses where innovations break down in the corporate world. This lively keynote was stronger than a good cup of coffee.

He comes out swinging. Warning: "I'm going to offend some people here." The room perked up.

1st point of failure: the meddling HR department. If HR's duty is to maintain order, it is the innovator's duty to disrupt established order. "HR will spend months writing a dress code manual, rather than supporting value-generating ideas."

Employees who care are employees who innovate. You need to find ways to strip away the "corporate layers of stupidity" to allow them to do what they care.

2nd point of failure: Insufficient intelligence. "Brilliant innovations do not come from mediocre minds," he claims. Citing the author of Flow, he says to hire bright people. Focus on discerning creativity, ability to deal with ambiguity, problem solving, critical thinking, not resume experience.

Here's the key: Brilliant people beget brilliant innovations.

3rd point of failure: Out of touch management. Managers need to understand the factory floor, the call enter, sell product, and have genuine contact with customers. Go "among the people." Get managers to leave the conference room and immerse themselves in the field.

Lesson here: Profound market awareness yields profound innovation.

4th point of failure: Low employee turnover. "I want and seek out turnover in my companies." Resume gaps are good, he says, because it shows aptitude for risk taking. Find "good switchers," those who seek out knowledge and complex creative challenges, not those looking for the illusion of stability.

Take away: A truly diverse workforce creates original ideas. According to an HBR study, companies that have turnover and a diverse mix show a 45% higher growth average.

5th point of failure: Not seeking help. Hire smart advisers, consultants, part-time partners, and others on contract to bring fresh thinking to the mix. Draw from their external perspective, industry expertise, a wealth of practices and experiences, and depth of focus. Face it: you just don't have all the talent under one roof. It's a big world. Find partners.

Moral: Find the right advisers. Make sure they are not just a hip, cool, experiential firm. Find one that can facilitate creativity and how to speak the language of business. Have they had experiences in the trenches, not just case-study theory? Would they partner with us, invest with us in the concept they develop?

Finally, it's all about People. People make it happen. Create the context for the people to thrive on your behalf.

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