Innovation: How looking danger in the eye drives business success
Curiosity, inquisitiveness, courage—even in the face of danger—is what drives innovation. It’s bloody scary, but we have to do it. We often don’t know how to do it, but we have to. We have to launch ourselves into the crocodile’s mouth.
At Afera’s Athens Conference, creative strategist, writer and academic Lazar Dzamic brought the human factor to a working programme built around the pillars of the process of innovation: the economic climate, adhesive tape market trends, innovation models and organisational structures. In his end-keynote presentation, the “rare independent thinker” revealed the secrets to success in business that he learned after 20 years’ experience as the strategy director in several well-known marketing and advertising agencies, including Google. As head of brand strategy for Google’s internal think-tank, The Zoo, Mr. Dzamic advised their top 50 clients (the largest consumer brands globally) on how to tell a better brand story in a digital world.
Culture eats process for breakfast
Fearlessly approaching innovation is ultimately about culture. Process is incredibly important, but in more companies than not, business success lies in culture, which is based on stories told in an emotional, simple way, normalising what is different. Part of building good culture is done through becoming better digital immigrants, meaning that employees have to adopt digital technology, learning how to live in a digital world by speaking the new language, decoding the rules of behaving and working in the new business landscape. Companies have to start with the kind of people they employ and managing with creative, emotional narrative, as well as mantras and battle cries:
“Innovation has to start with a sense of higher purpose,” a sense of shared urgency cascading to all levels of a company.
“Try to be grumpy and accept that you are going to fail.” Feeling that the cards are stacked against you drives you to change, do things in a different way, invent.
“Where’s there’s harmony, there’s no innovation.” Innovation is a creative act of weighing varying opinions against each other to choose the best result. Where there is uniform obedience to a thought imposed from above, rarely do you get innovation; rather, it is the stuff of sparks, creative disagreements.
“You have to get ready to be uncomfortably excited.” Creating and modifying brings you to new environments where you don’t know the rules. Embarking on innovation may make you the one who rocks the boat, the disturbing factor in your company. “Be proud of your accent, for being different, for talking about odd things in different ways,” said Mr. Dzamic. “If you are the odd man out, go talk to your colleagues—you will have many more “relatives”, or allies, in your company than you realised and many more resources to do what you want to do.”
Always remember the difference between simple and hard. There is a difference between something that is simple in mindset and hard in practice, simply because of “the muscle memory” of business models, residual cultures, process and everything else. Try to understand what is simple and what is hard.
Change your language by excluding the words and phrases “problem”, “challenge” and “we can’t because...” and emphasising phrases like “interesting opportunity” and “we can if...”. When you switch from the negative to the positive, something happens with human psychology: We start collectively thinking about possible solutions and not the barriers to changing something or creating something new.
Set honey traps for ideas. Don’t make it harder on yourself by going out and hunting and killing them. Set bait for them—all the brainstorm sessions and hackathons you can conjure.
You’ve got to invent your own future
Be cautious about overanalysing things. Quoting a Hungarian scientist, Mr. Dzamic said that the only real way to predict your future is to invent it yourself. As a company, you can function the way you always have and hope that you will survive, but disruption is everywhere. Figures from the Fortune 500 are basically the same at every corporate level: Everyone is being wiped out is they are not nimble, agile and creative enough.