Intuit Inc. knew it had to change up its approach to innovation management when employees started complaining that its collaboration tools were the graveyard where good ideas went to die -- that's not good for a company that had reinvented accounting practices with its financial software. The upshot was Brainstorm, explained Roy Rosin, vice president of product management and innovation at the Mountain View, Calif.-based company.
In this podcast excerpt, Rosin outlines the steps to building a culture of innovation and why serial disruption is a necessary part of the idea creation process.
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SearchCIO.com: Intuit uses an innovation management platform called Brainstorm. Can you explain what that is?
Roy Rosin: Brainstorm is a platform that we developed internally in the context of trying to build innovation manager programs at the company. We had been using quite a few different enterprise collaboration platforms, things that ranged from SharePoint to others, and we found that we had a number of idea collection tools and silos of information. Our employees started to tell us things like, "This is where ideas go to die, and not evolve and live and turn into some actions."
So, some of our employees took that as opportunity to build a platform based on making connections and visibility. I know some of the guys at Google say that innovation is a collaborative exercise and collaboration requires visibility. You need to know about opportunities to connect and connect people and information in new ways; and that's really what Brainstorm does: It connects ideas to people who can help shape them and improve them or to decision makers who can act on them.
How do you create a culture of innovation?
Rosin: The culture piece is incredibly important. When people talk about innovation management, a lot of times they don't stop and realize that they're fundamentally talking about change management. How do you in fact get a group of people behaving in new ways and acting in new ways? There are a number of pieces to it: One is the standard change management formula: You need some clear, burning platforms, some sense of urgency that drives change, on top of which you do a couple things: You change what you measure, what you make visible and what you celebrate.
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When you do those things, behavior actually follows suit. If you all of a sudden are starting to say, "Hey, look, I'm not just saying innovation is important, but I'm doing things like measuring revenue from new products that are less than three years old; I'm looking at new time-to-market, and I'm making visible and celebrating behaviors around rapid experimentations and people; I'm validating their assumptions and doing quick experiments to learn more about new ideas; I'm bringing those guys up on stage and I'm celebrating those types of behaviors because I want to see more people acting that way" -- you'd be surprised what you can do to a culture of an organization. All of a sudden, when our CEO and our chairman Scott Cook started to celebrate newer ideas -- not just ones that had already brought in $20, $50 or $100 million -- people started to really get excited about this culture.
You also have to remove obstacles. Part of this is simply noticing and paying attention to and cataloguing where people get stuck when they're trying to pursue new ideas. Where in the organization do they not get any time with legal? Or, they can't stand up a new stack in the data center. Or, they have an idea and they don't know if it's good or bad. But they have no way and no research budget to connect with customers so they can't gather evidence and can't get excited or get other people excited about those new ideas. When you're looking at and cataloging those obstacles and start to methodically break them down, I think you're also really building that culture. So, you start to really create a lot of visibility and celebration around the people that are making it, and then you remove the obstacles for everyone else.
Some of the things that you just brought up sound like you're following an agile methodology.
Rosin: I certainly would say that it is sort of the extreme of agile. There's an element of agile to it for sure. One of the toughest things about innovation management, that you learn when you study it, is that it is very difficult to tell the difference between great ideas, and ones that aren't so good when they first come out from somebody's brain. Most of the successes in the world, most of the things that created a lot of value from innovation -- the thing that created the value doesn't look much like the original idea. So, it's difficult to be an executive sitting in a room and getting new ideas presented to them, knowing that even the ones that do succeed are probably not going to look like the ones being presented right now.
Our employees started to tell us things like, 'This is where ideas go to die, and not evolve and live and turn into some actions.'
The trick really is, you have -- and the team has -- a lot of assumptions and beliefs. The way we talk about it now is, "How do you as quickly as possible learn which beliefs are true, and which ones may be not so true?" So, there's an element of getting clear on those assumptions, getting clear on those hypotheses and getting something tangible out in front of customers quickly -- and then learning and pivoting, changing direction based on what you've learned based on the real market evidence, not on a model or theory or what you say on the whiteboard.
Is it hard to sustain innovation?
Rosin: I think it is hard, to the extent that certainly some of your big business has a gravitational pull on resources, especially when things get difficult. You have to deliver, and every company is aware of having to deliver in the current period. That sort of takes the eye off the ball of how we could be growing three to five years out into the future, or even one to two years out in the future. So, to that extent, it can be difficult to maintain that same energy on things that are not yet big, on things that hopefully will be big in the future.
But I think there are things that companies have done very successfully when they've built this culture of change management, this culture of innovation where you're celebrating behaviors and new ideas. Then you're celebrating that, even if you're only putting it in front of 10 or 20 people, they got the outcome they were hoping for. That's really inspirational to others. So, even if you haven't scaled it yet, you can do things on a small scale quickly that actually do maintain the excitement and keep the momentum going, even before you have a lot to show for it.
The SearchCIO.com CIO Innovators profile series highlights how CIOs use technology to meet both IT and business leadership objectives. To suggest a leader for a future CIO Innovator profile, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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