"Changing the world, one client mission at a time"
Leaders can also institute changes through Innovation Incubators. These are small creative teams tasked solely with experimentation. An example of how they work comes from my life at Aptify. When I started Aptify in 1993, it was just me. A couple of years later, I had a business partner. Shortly later, a handful of others joined the team. They knew nothing other than experimentation because they were creating a business from scratch.
Over the years, as we achieved success and growth, we arrived at a point where we had so many people I found it extremely hard to innovate. Even in a very innovative, entrepreneurial environment (in a software company I built, no less), I felt that we had become incremental innovators and were not producing the big hits that put us on the map, to begin with. By then, we were a global company with plenty of resources and engineers with brilliant minds, but as a team, we weren’t driving major change any more. Instead, we were mostly thinking about how to improve what we had already built. We found themselves in what Clayton Christenson famously dubbed “the innovator’s dilemma,” in his 1997 book of the same name, a common problem for successful businesses we could not escape. Over time, I decided a radical change was needed to inject meaningful innovation back into the organization.
I created a completely separate team, called Innovation Laboratories, a group that would be forked off from the rest of the company, and report directly to me. It included people who were brilliant with risk-oriented mindsets. The goal was to have this team serve as an incubator for disruptive ideas. For this reason, I didn’t give them the same accountability to produce day-to-day results as the rest of the team. Their mission was to think about longterm, highly disruptive change, and it worked amazingly well.
Innovation Labs came up with all sorts of new ideas that had nothing to do with their current products but were significant innovations for the industry. Their success re-energized the company and gave our brand reputation a major industry boost.
At Aptify, one of the team members was deeply passionate about finding a way to help clients get access to more quality apps that could extend the capabilities of the base system. He was active in their professional services group where he saw patterns in which many clients would ask for the same types of abilities. This individual gained the grassroots support of others he worked with to build an “App Store” for the Aptify community.
Many of the senior leaders, including me, were skeptical at first. However, we gave this person enough space to continue his experiment and he proved us all wrong very quickly. Within weeks of its trial launch, a large number of customers had already downloaded apps from the store and were raving about it.
We advanced our Core Purpose, including with a new stream of recurring revenue that the initiative brought into the firm. This person was able to share his knowledge and learning with everyone else, and it’s a great example of innovation and growth coming from all directions if you foster a culture that encourages incremental risk-taking and experimentation.
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