If you want to embed in your company an innovation management the way how innovation machines such as Google, Microsoft, Amazon, LG Electronics, P&G, Intel, Whirlpool do it, and if you want to implement changes in your organization such as the transformation into a serial innovator you meet with resistance because you encounter forces that want to maintain the status quo. An inspiring vision will enable you to overcome this resistance whilst an authoritarian decree will not do.
These are the characteristics of an inspiring vision (see also Kotter 1996):
- Imaginable: conveys a picture of the future
- Desirable: appeals to the long-term interests of the stakeholders, has a moral power
- Feasible: realistic, attainable but ambitious goals
- Focused: provides clear non-contradictory guidance for decision-making
- Flexible: general enough to allow individual and alternative responses under diverse or changing conditions
Communicable: can be explained in half a minute.
On the last point of communicability, I am more demanding than other authors. In my view it is important that all members of the organization including those on the lowest rungs can play back the vision of the company. Because the vision is a major tool for aligning the organization and for driving innovation. For this, the vision has to be short and simple. In my work as a business angel, I as well as my colleagues expect start-up teams to convincingly spell out their proposition in a twenty-second “elevator test”. Why should we grant more than half a minute for the explanation of a vision? As I talk about vision I want to clarify upfront that I am against differentiating between vision and mission. My reason? Keep it simple.
A vision is meant to give direction to an organization. It must inspire or electrify people. Here are seven examples of visions from innovation machines.
- Google: Google´s mission is to organize the world´s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
- Microsoft: At Microsoft, our mission and values are to help people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential.
- Amazon: Our vision is to be earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.
- LG Electronics: LG continues to pursue its 21st century vision of becoming a worldwide leader in digital that ensures customer satisfaction through innovative products and superior service.
- P&G: We will provide branded products and services of superior quality that improve the lives of the world´s consumers.
- Intel: At Intel, we constantly push the boundaries of innovation in order to make people´s lives more exciting, more fulfilling, and easier to manage.
- Whirlpool: Innovation from Everyone and Everywhere.
I do not want to express a preference for any of these seven visions but want to point out the inspiration inherent in Google´s vision. When Google´s CEO Eric Schmidt was asked to give an estimate of how long it would take Google to organize all of the world´s information, he replied: “It will take, current estimate, 300 years” (Stross 2008).
Note: people join companies and stay with them because of their visions! Just listen to Sheryl Sandberg, formerly Google´s Vice President of Global Online Sales and Operations up to 2008 before leaving for Facebook: “I went to Google because Google had a higher mission, which is to make the world´s information freely available” (Auletta 2010). Sometimes people even join a company with a powerful vision despite the fact that they would earn more somewhere else. Nothing underlines more the importance of an inspiring vision, in particular for inspring your innovation management.
A vision can only achieve its purpose if it is effectively communicated. Part of an effective communication is that a vision is repeated again and again until it finally sinks in (do not underestimate the number of times it takes), and that it is communicated by multiple means and in multiple forums (Kotter 1996). An inspiring vision that is shared by all employees is the most promising base for a successful serial innovation management.
Wentz RC (2012) The Innovation Machine, CreateSpace
Kotter JP (1996) Leading Change, Harvard Business School Press, Boston
Stross R (2008) Planet Google, Free Press, New York
Auletta K (2010) Googled, Virgin Books, London