Innovation brings with it a world of possibility. Through innovation we can build smarter cities that work for everyone. We can create profitable industries that help, not hinder, a sustainable future. And we can solve our problems, turning challenges into opportunities for individuals, businesses and society.
Simply put, investment in innovation is an investment in the future of people, partners and growth. According to McKinsey and Company, 84 per cent of CEOs believe innovation is critical to growth, yet only six per cent are satisfied with their innovation performance. Businesses are struggling to make innovation a reality.
A recent Cisco survey, conducted with Angus Reid, revealed that Canadian organizations are struggling to ramp-up innovation and digital transformation which is a major driver of innovation. Just a third of Canadian businesses made investing in technology infrastructure a priority this year, and even fewer considered digitizing business processes (27%) or updating legacy technology (20%) as priorities.
Investing in innovation isn’t solely about the dollars and cents. It comes down to a mindset; a way of thinking and acting. You need to see your business as a whole and not in silos; be willing to collaborate internally and externally; and, most importantly, be ready to fail.
Take action against silos
Silos remain a major barrier to innovation for many businesses. Teams organized by business function mean employees can’t easily cross-pollinate ideas or share insights from one group to another. Employees are too often conditioned to focus on their own task, gaining little insight into what the other teams are doing or what their needs and challenges are. And too often managers are singularly focused on their own teams’ deliverables.
Silos are very real, and they stifle innovation. If you want to innovate, you need to develop an active strategy for encouraging employees to do so – and management has a clear role to play.
Leaders need to support a culture that celebrates the sharing of ideas and taking on bold bets. This starts by enabling employees to work with different teams and exposing them to different areas of the business. While there may not always be a direct relationship between the business functions performed by each, this visibility gives more people insight into different ways of thinking and working.
Lean on partnership and collaboration
Innovation is a team sport that requires diversity of thought, expertise, skills, and backgrounds. Many teams may not have this critical mix, which points to the importance of building partnerships. I’ve seen firsthand the power of collaboration through co-developing with Canadian organizations to solve real-world challenges for businesses that ultimately trickle down to create better communities and economies. It’s a model that works time and time again.
Cisco believes strongly in the power of partnerships to drive innovation. This year, we will award three organizations up to $200K in seed funding, along with Cisco resources and expertise to help solve a critical innovation challenge through the second annual Fast Future Innovation Awards. We’ve worked over the past year with our 2021 Fast Future winners to innovate, scale their concepts and bring the solution to market.
Fail fast and with enthusiasm
Failure is a stepping stone to innovation, and it can be a good thing when done quickly and strategically. Leaders must create a safe space for employees to take calculated risks and try new ways of approaching problems. Employees should never be punished for failing – instead, teach employees to take key learnings from those ideas and embrace it as an investment in the next idea.
We operationalize this principle by providing an open mic forum where every employee gets up to ninety minutes to pitch an idea and receive feedback. No idea is rejected, and the ideas don’t have to relate to Cisco. They can be anything, because the goal is to encourage new thinking, not shut it down.
With the right mindset in place, innovation can start to take root in Canadian organizations, ultimately leading to a positive trickle down effect on employees, communities and the country. With new ways of thinking and collaborating, let’s challenge ourselves to combat innovation stagnation and unlock the tremendous opportunities waiting for us – if only we dare to try.
Wayne Cuervo is the Director of Global Innovation at Cisco Canada.