By Ahmad Badr, Special to Gulf News
During this time of year, corporate results from the region’s biggest companies, as well as those from around the world, can become almost deafening in their regularity. And no story made a louder din than the news that Apple recently became the world’s first $1 trillion company.
One of the reasons that Apple has managed to grow to such a size is, of course, its singular focus on innovation and design. It is the company that effectively gave us the smartphone as we know it. It is the company that made digital music downloads mainstream.
It is the company that made pieces of computing hardware that were coveted for their looks, as much as for their technical capacities.
One of the interesting facets of innovation, from a corporate strategy perspective, is how it is product of corporate culture, as well as a driver of it. When you think of Apple, or one of its fellow tech giants — say Google, Facebook, or Netflix — you almost certainly envisage their workplaces as buzzing hives of innovation and creativity.
Cutting-edge products require cutting-edge thinking, and these companies promote both by fostering work cultures where ideas get chance to breathe. This culture produces great innovations, and these lead to an entrenched culture where producing innovation is embraced and expected.
The “fail fast, fail often” mantra has become a focal point for promoting corporate innovation. It promises a culture where the main focus is that ideas get the opportunity to grow and develop, without fear of failure or censure.
The concept is that, with great people, great leadership, and a culture that embraces failure as part of the creative process, a business is more likely to end up with a winning idea on their hands further down the line.
Ironically, you can also see their innovation driving culture in many other businesses who are — little wonder — rather taken by such a heady concept of innovation. Inspired by the success of the tech giants, many businesses have tried to mimic elements of tech culture to get their own slice of innovation.
Recent news stories have talked, for example, of how the rise of Artificial Intelligence in the realms of finance has necessitated that the most straight-laced of hedge funds are now trying to lure talented employees with the kind of open-plan, laid-back office environments Big Tech has always favoured. It might start as a means to recruit new employees, but it will almost certainly have a longer-term impact on the culture of their businesses as a whole.
Other industries have tried different, flatter management structures in an effort to streamline the ideas process, and still more have created their own innovation-focused departments where, no matter their business, the wildest of ideas can be trialled without fear.
In a sense, however, mimicry of this nature is the opposite of real innovation. If a business hasn’t gone to the trouble of thinking how it can, in its own right, produce innovative products and fresh ideas, it is unlikely to take much long-term relief from dropping a few big-tech concepts into their culture.
Better instead to start with a look at what is limiting innovation in your business right now. Do ideas even get a chance to surface, let alone be given chance to fail? Are you actually providing opportunities for employees to think strategically and creatively? Does your long-term vision for the company allow for the agility and pivoting that innovation might demand?
These might be relatively small questions, and they might have relatively easy fixes, but it’s still better to start there, and then build out your own route to innovation.
Put simply, you need an innovative approach to innovation, and you need to find one based on what your own business needs. Apple, among its big tech brethren, actually has a reputation for being rather more staid and serious than others. Its employees are no less engaged, and they are certainly no less capable of innovation, but they are doing it in a culture and environment that is right for Apple, and nobody else.
Ahmad Badr is CEO of Knowledge Group.