You Can Innovate in Anything You Do

I’ve often spoken and written about the heroic myth of innovation—that business creativity is the province of a few geniuses like Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos, who exist on a different plane from us ordinary humans. It’s a false narrative fed by news media that love stories featuring larger-than-life heroes, and if you take it to heart, it can cripple the innovative spirit in your organization.

A byproduct of this heroic myth is the exclusive focus on new products and services. From Henry Ford to Mark Zuckerberg, we’ve long idolized engineers, designers, programmers, and other visionaries who create new products and services that become the basis for entire new industries.

Creating new products and services is great. But if you limit your thinking about innovating to this sphere, you overlook the countless ways that everyone in your organization can improve what you do and create valuable benefits for both the business and its customers. In my research and in my consulting and training work, I’ve noticed that great organizations innovate in everything they do—not only in their products and services, but also in their internal processes and functions, from human resources and employee training to financial management and legal oversight. Sometimes the value created by these easy-to-overlook innovations is as great or greater than the value created by a popular new product.

Kordsa, a Turkish company I’ve worked with, manufactures fabric used to reinforce tires for cars. In recent years, they’ve broadened the array of products they build to include reinforcing materials used in a variety of other industries, from aerospace to construction. Product innovation has been a big driver of Kordsa’s success as a company.

But when Kordsa became a product innovator, a funny thing happened: The message about the power and value of innovating spread to everyone in the business, and soon people in every department were coming up with new and better ways to work.

In a fast-evolving company like Kordsa, one significant challenge is the employee on-boarding and training process. Helping new workers, whether they are highly trained engineers or new members of middle management, to understand and fit into the company culture is both vitally important and surprisingly difficult. Examining this issue, one of Kordsa’s innovation teams developed the idea of having every new worker assigned a “buddy.” The buddy serves as a guide and mentor for the new employee’s first year on the job, answering questions and helping the new team member to learn the company culture—including, for example, Kordsa’s emphasis on co-creation of business ideas with its customers.

Once implemented, the new buddy system reduced the stress on company HR managers and trainers, and helped solidify and spread Kordsa’s unique corporate culture through every level of the organization. It even led to the creation of a number of deep, lasting friendships among Kordsa team members. Kordsa now calls the program “Buddies Forever.” Along with initiatives that support local mentoring, diversity in recruitment, and gender equality, the buddy system has helped make Kordsa one of the most attractive companies to work for in Turkey, with powerful long-term effects on the success of the business.

What department or division of your business do you work in? Whatever your role may be, there are surely challenges that you can address more effectively, problems you can solve more completely, and opportunities you can take fuller advantage of. Everything you do in your job is open to improvement once you get into the habit of innovating.

Of course, this still leaves the question: Once you’ve identified an area of your business where you’d like to innovate, how exactly do you come up with specific innovative ideas that will provide genuine benefits to your organization and those it serves? I’ll dive into some ways to answer this question in my next blog post—so stay tuned!

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