Tag Archives: Intuit

No Time to Innovate

Take an Innovation Vacation

Innovation VacationA popular set of questions that I get asked repeatedly by clients and audience members includes the following:

We know we need to innovate, but who has time?

How do companies balance the day to day operations with the need to innovate?

Without a budget to allocate people to innovation, how can I make innovation part of people’s day jobs?

We all know that when it comes to business, and life in general, that there are two major constraints we all face – and often trade off one against the other – those two constraints are time and money.

Every organization may understand the need for innovation, but it is difficult to execute in a repeatable way because so many of our organizations are set up to maximize the extraction of value from today’s operations and do a poor job of balancing this admirable and necessary goal with the need to develop tomorrow’s revenue and profit-generating operations.

Some organizations set up research and development departments, new product development departments, corporate venturing arms, incubators, or skunkworks to try and address the needs for future revenue and profit streams, but this limits the number of people that can potentially contribute to the potential innovation process and success of the organization – and isolates the efforts from other valuable perspectives and inputs.

Other organizations like Google and 3M also have some of these structures, but in addition try and say to employees that they can spend up to a certain percentage of their time on innovation projects (or whatever work-related pursuit they might want). In 3M’s case the figure is 15% and in Google’s case it is 20%.

There is only one problem with percent time.

The day-to-day deadline pressures and fire drills never disappear in any organization (even an innovative one), and so often the joke goes – sure Google employees get 20% time, but only if it’s on Saturday or Sunday.

So what’s the solution?

Well, after talking with the folks at Intuit as part of the research for my next book project, I’ve come to discover that they approach the time for innovation problem slightly differently.

Instead of just allowing people to spend up to a blanket 10% of their time on innovation projects, instead they allow employees to accumulate that time and then schedule time off to pursue a specific innovation project, often doing so at the same time with 3-4 other employees so they can collaborate on the project idea and push it forward.

I like to call it taking an innovation vacation.

I think this is the best approach I’ve heard so far to balancing the needs of the day to day business and its need for predictable resourcing, with the desire to invest in innovation to sustain the business into the future.

Allowing employees to schedule a collaborative innovation vacation achieves SEVERAL key business goals:

  1. Predictability – It allows managers to do capacity planning and schedule around the employee’s absence
  2. Retention – Allowing employees to take a week or two here or there to pursue an innovation project they are interested in, is likely to lead to higher job satisfaction and retention
  3. Collaboration – If you encourage people to take their time off as cross-functional groups, we know that not only do diverse teams solve problems better, but we also know from EMC’s data on innovation submissions and finalists that projects pursued as teams instead of by individuals are 33% more likely to make the final cut
  4. Increased Organizational Performance – Organizations that have deeper networks and stronger cross-functional knowledge (more T people) are more likely to work together more efficiently, have fewer blind spots, have higher employee engagement, and just have more fun

Time out for a sanity check. 10% time equates to about five weeks a year, and 20% time would equate to about ten weeks a year. So, if you choose to pursue an innovation investment strategy like innovation vacations, you must plan accordingly in terms of staffing (factoring in of course that most employees won’t make full use of it), but I believe it can be done and should be done – for the long-term health of the business.

We try and convince people to allocate 10-15% of their income towards retirement so that they have money to provide for themselves when they grow old and retire, why shouldn’t an organization allocate a similar percentage?

What do you think, could you establish something like this in your organization?

What would you do with an innovation vacation?

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Innovation Interview with Scott Cook of Intuit

Innovation Interview with Scott Cook of IntuitThis is the first of a series of video and text interviews with innovation leaders at a range of companies that are seeking to create innovation excellence in their organizations. This interview, and many others with innovation leaders from trailblazing organizations around the globe, will build upon the foundation of the research and findings contained in my first book – Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire – and will form part of a case study on Intuit for my next publishing effort. This effort will be a highly collaborative and interactive endeavor looking at what is required to make innovation a deep capability in successful organizations.

If you think your organization is doing some really great work to create innovation excellence in your organization, please contact me.

I am excited to present the first innovation interview in this video interview series examining some of the topic surrounding the development of a deep innovation capability. I had the opportunity to interview Scott Cook, Co-Founder and Chairman of Intuit, at The Economist’s “Innovation 2011: Entrepreneurship for a Disruptive World” event in Berkeley, CA. In this video Scott talks about some of the key factors required in helping an organization become excellent at innovation. Below you will find the video and a written transcript.

Here is the innovation interview transcript:

Hello everyone this is Braden Kelley of Blogging Innovation. here with Scott Cook the founder of Intuit. Scott, I would really like to ask you about innovation and building innovation as a deep capability within the organization and as you started Intuit and as you look to grow and make it a successful company, what are some of the key things that you tried to do to help make innovation a capability in a continuous possibility for the organization.

Scott: Yeah that is something we have been spending a lot of time on over the last 4 years so I think a lot of the DNA we have on innovation is good in the company but we had lost some of the skill and capabilities. We hired new people, new managers so we went into a big rebuilding starting in 07. Things that have been very— I mean what you are trying to do, is change and improve the way teams do their daily work and the way managers, what they expect of teams.

So we worked it at all levels, so I work with teams from the top and it changes your expectations of what business unit leaders do with their teams and then we have innovation catalysts who work to couch teams and help teams when they hit innovation roadblocks or trying to leap and really change their thinking. We also work on skill building so one example is that a number of our executives had actually narrowed who we would hire from various companies, good folks but it never actually done innovation in a way that we teach people to do it.

So we took 2 days of an off site with just the top 18 people in the company and had our innovation catalyst come in and have them do the very process that we expect to our teams. Customer immersion with the customers and the executives did it, why we recruited customers as they came in. The nature of going broad that day— in a nature of trying to come to a key insight, testing that insight back with the customers then going broad, I don’t care with that insight, what could you do and then narrowing.

We made them go through the same steps that we expect as a team so they personally could have done it. I find it hard for leaders to lead to a destination, they have not yet been. So that is why we had to work on a leash up level but at the same time we were working on the team so how they work. So that is, we also do internal company broadcasts where we take teams inside Intuit and they tell their stories of how they did it step-by-step because we all learn from stories.

Another thing that we do is we teach by doing. We used to teach by preaching, talk at people. I don’t find adults learn from being talked at. They just retain the same habits they already have. So if we really want to change habits you have to get them to practice the new habits. So now when we do company meetings or leadership development sessions most of it is doing very little of it as listening. We get them busy doing the very things we want them to do or with homework in advance where they had to interview people who do what we want, then to do and learning from that and report back into a very doing process.

So that has been a big change we have made as from how we actually conduct the meetings where we want to use them to change habits so it is a series of things, note it happens fast step-by-step. Some teams move faster than others and we try to use those to inspire the rest but I think as I worked with teams now I see them— we are getting better outputs higher success rates with customers much higher than ratings of new products, fewer failures are pruned out early and cheap which is the whole goal. So I have seen the output metrics now finally after 4 years at working at this that you would project in the desire from making these sorts of interventions.

Braden: So in talking with other people in Intuit, it became very clear that when the company started small there was this idea of Follow Me Home’s, and then you know kind of follow me into the office and the catalyst programs sounds like one of the things that you are doing to try to instill some of these behaviors across the company and expose people to some of the ideas. And as I, you know talked with people at the organization it became very clear that the design for the like concept that you are trying to move across the organization is spreading farther and wider and then as you pursue that what are some of the key challenges that you found and that you have overcome over time in relation to trying to take some of the small company ethos as you have grown and maintain that those aspects of designing for a customer to like?

Scott: I want to say 2 things one is there is a challenge of team size. The team’s size when we started of course was small so everyone in the team was very close to customers. Our team size has grew and it grew and it grew and once you get a bigger team you move from 4 people working on a product to the 20 or 30 or 50, well then you have got some people in the team who go out and meet with customers. Other people say “Nah, I don’t need to do that, you do that, oh just listen to what you are saying” and suddenly you just get most of the team who has never met with customers or has not met in the last year with customers or with prospects.

And then you have much more communication problems, you don’t have shared vision, you don’t have shared understanding, a lot of things go haywire so key is to get back to smaller team sizes. So we have been busting up the team sizes sort of taking teams that used to be 30 or 40 and broken up some note in some cases no team bigger than 4. And we have to architect the work a lot more if those teams are truly going to be independent and that is our jobs as leaders. So that has been one very helpful thing. I think another. I would focus on learning from customer behaviors, not learning from customers, learning from customer behaviors.

Because the tempting tendency is for people on teams to rely on what customers say and maybe that works if you are selling to specialists. Let us say you are selling to a doctor who does cardiac surgery 8 hours a day, 5 days a week maybe that person can really tell you accurately what they are going to do if confronted with a new offering. But for regular people that just sell regular stuff to who might do taxes ones a year or might work with a bank ones in a week or pay their employees ones every 2 weeks. What they tell you, maybe half of it they will actually do, but you actually don’t know which half you are listening to.

So I learn much more reliable behaviors, trust observable behaviors that you can observe and measure either measure remotely through what happens in the web or you can measure by observing with your own eyes. The tendency though when you take people having them trained and send them out to meet with customers is they have got to interview customers. Well you just invented the word’s most expensive way to do a customer interview. If you are going to interview them call them on the phone or send survey, don’t do Follow Me Home.

Follow me homes are there so you can see with your eyes so shut up, say nothing, watch for an hour or two, or three then you can ask him about what you saw and then you are asking about behaviors. That is still an interview, not the most reliable but it will be better because you are probing about specific behaviors yourself. So I say that is the second thing that we have worked to re-instill this trust behaviors and behavioral data, not attitudes or words.

Braden: Very good, well I think the insight is very important and really and the taking the time to listen like you said is very important to innovation, I mean that is what we are all trying to do there early is the people that follow blogging innovation so on behalf of the readers and the viewers of Blogging Innovation, I think you very much Scott for your time and again this has been Braden Kelley of Blogging Innovation here with Scott Cook of Intuit.

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How Leading Organizations Manage Their Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing Efforts – Part Two

How Leading Organizations Manage Their Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing Efforts - Part OneIf you missed How Leading Organizations Manage Their Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing Efforts – Part One, you can find it here.

So what do leading organizations do to encourage the successful use of external talent?

They build a solid foundation:

  1. Seek to understand where the challenges will lie in the transformation
  2. Have passionate business owners
  3. Secure top level support
  4. Make a long term commitment to the use of external talent
  5. Negotiate master agreements with external talent providers at the center
  6. Create a common language of innovation and external talent
  7. Implement the processes and systems to manage and measure innovation efforts

They get strategic:

  1. Create an external talent strategy
  2. Make a plan for achieving the strategy
  3. Attach goals to the strategy (e.g., P&G’s 50% goal)
  4. Communicate the goals of the strategy and measure goal achievement

They focus on communications and ownership:

  1. Do not underestimate the importance of communications, education, and dialogue
  2. Create guidelines for when and how to use different external talent sources
  3. Have someone own and manage the external innovation efforts
  4. Have owners and champions in place in different business units or product groups
  5. Educate employees on how to engage owners and champions

They continuously reinforce their efforts:

  1. Recognize and reward those who go outside
  2. Weave external focus into internal systems (e.g., innovation system prompts)
  3. Get cross-functional input into problem definition and challenge formation
  4. Make resources available for integration
  5. Work to make the organization more flexible and adaptable

In addition, successful organizations understand that it is about making and maintaining connections and community – you build it for when you need it, instead of building it when you need it. Successful organizations understand that attracting and managing external talent is as important as finding and hiring the best internal talent, and are changing their budget allocations to fit this new paradigm. The role of HR in the near future will not be just to recruit, develop, and manage staff, but also to build and curate talent pools. The HR profession will have to build new core competences in network orchestration and managing talent – no matter where the talent lives (inside or outside the organization). It is time to start preparing.

Build a Common Language of Innovation

Before moving on to the final section, let us look at a few brief examples of different companies engaging external talent for business success and one case study of a leader pushing farther:

  • Threadless decided to base their whole business on external talent and build a community of designers and customers that they could leverage to come up with the t-shirt designs that they sell.
  • Quirky has taken the Threadless model of utilizing external talent to simultaneously make invention accessible and build a consumer products company. You submit your idea, the community curates it, the company evaluates it, and actually produces and sells the chosen inventions online, and even at a handful of retailers.
  • P&G went outside with a plastic technology and created a joint venture with competitor Clorox that focuses on trash bags, food storage, and related areas.
  • Intuit uses its Collaboratory web site to connect with entrepreneurs and to publicize their open innovation challenges, and their Labs web site to engage with the developer and customer communities to get immediate feedback on some of their experiments in order to engage in some level of co-creation.
  • Psion Teklogix has built one of the more robust corporate open innovation communities – Ingenuity Working – complete with a video from their CEO front and center.
  • SAP has started The Global SAP Co-Innovation Lab Network (aka COIL) with HP, Intel, NetApp, Cisco, VMware, and F5 Networks to facilitate project-based co-innovation with its members and to enhance the capabilities of SAP’s partner and customer ecosystem through an integrated network of world-wide expertise and best-in-class technologies and platforms.
  • MyStarbucksIdea.com is an example of engaging the creative energy outside your organization that most companies will not want to follow. They throw things wide open for all idea submissions, not focused on any particular challenges, for all to see. As a result, Starbucks exposes the company to the risk of brand equity destruction from not following through on suggestions. At the same time, this approach provides free market research for competitors and creates a lot of sifting and communications work for internal resources.

If you missed How Leading Organizations Manage Their Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing Efforts – Part One, you can find it here.

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