Make Room for Innovation: Key Characteristics of Innovative Companies

Lisa Bodell, founder of the innovation research and training firm futurethink, explains that with the right knowledge and tools, everyone has the power to innovate.

Lisa Bodell: I talk a lot about this in my book Kill The Company, is that there are many key skills that make up an innovative company. And these skills and behaviors I think are important for people to know. I don't think any one person typically has all these skills or exemplifies all these behaviors, but it's important as a small company or your team to have a mix of these so you can be very innovative or better embrace change. So let me tell you what those are. The first is strategic imagination. And what I mean by that is dreaming with purpose. There are a lot of companies that are strategic, there are a lot of companies that are creative, but there are very few that have the blend of both. So you need dreaming with purpose and we call that strategic imagination.

The second thing I think you need is you need smart risk-taking. So you need people that are willing to take risks within certain boundaries and they know what those boundaries are. When we talk about boundaries what we're trying to get people to do is to stop operating with handcuffs and start operating with guardrails, and that's something that a really good company does all the time. The next thing is we think that winning companies or innovative companies are resilient. They do not give up when they are faced with unforeseen challenges, they know that when something fails that maybe that's just getting them one step closer to the perfect solution, but they don't give up.

Next is agility; being able to deal with the wildcards because change is going to be constant. And then finally it's being future focused. So if you're a company that's only looking to the next quarter, and most people say that they aren't doing that but many of them are, that's a problem. You need people that are looking far beyond the next quarter or the next year but actually thinking about trends the next ten or 20 years out to not stay ahead of the curve but look way beyond the curve.


Lisa Bodell, founder of the internationally recognized innovation research and training firm futurethink, explains that with the right knowledge and tools, everyone has the power to innovate. She breaks this down into five key skills:

First is strategic imagination. Original ideas are great, but in order to make your ideas stick you need to dream with purpose.

Second, you need smart risk-taking — experimentation and risk are essential to success, but careless risk-taking can lead to disaster.

Third is resiliency, resiliency, resiliency. Innovative companies understand that failure gets them one step closer to the perfect solution.

Fourth, are you agile? You need to be able to deal with wildcards because change is going to be constant.

Fifth is future focus. You've got to look 10-20 years beyond where the curve is now to spot emerging trends. If your time horizon is quarterly earnings, you've got a real problem.

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