Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Ideas Come from Everywhere

Matthew E. May begins his book The Elegant Solution: Toyota's Formula for Mastering Innovation with a chapter telling that

The Toyota organization implements a million ideas a year.

That’s a fact, he says. It is their greatest source of competitive advantage. It’s their engine of innovation. But more than that, Toyota has created a culture where every idea counts. It’s an environment of everyday innovation as a result of fanatical focus on getting little better, daily.

Harvard Business Review recently published an article about Reverse Engineering Google’s Innovation Machine. In the article there was a short, but interesting referral to suggestion box. “Google also employs an idea management system whereby employees can e-mail ideas for new products, processes, and company improvements to a companywide suggestion box. Every employee can then comment on and rate the ideas.”

HBR did not go further on linking this to Google’s culture. I am convinced that the secret is in the culture!
Photo of Suggestion box by hashir

I googled a little bit and found an article on Business Week about Managing Google's Idea Factory. (Apparently from this book, which I have not read).

The article is about Marissa Mayer, who was Google’s twentieth employee in 1999. Now she is Google's Vice President of Search Products & User Experience with the power and influence as a champion of innovation. One of the key reasons for Google's success is a belief that good ideas can, and should, come from anywhere. An ideas mailing list is open to anyone at Google who wants to post a proposal. What Mayer does is help figure out how to make sure that good ideas bubble to the surface and get the attention they need.

Or rather, let her explain the same with her own words at Stanford University Educators Corner. The video is just 3 minutes long, and there is more material from her lecture at Stanford site.

The stories of Toyota's and Google's culture of innovation sound similar, don't they? You can gain competitive advantage with a culture that supports everyday innovation coming from anywhere. Without the culture you don't find the ideas, you can't get them in use and you will not benefit from them.

Do you have a system for collecting and using ideas?

Does your corporate culture support ideas?

Would you like to have a culture like that?

What should you do as a manager to build the culture?

If big companies like Toyota and Google can build the culture, smaller companies should be able to do the same.