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Shoot for the moon

By James Lambe | March 29, 2015

It seems like wherever you turn, some expert or report is declaring the need to bolster innovation in Canada. Creating and building newer and better products and services is a top priority, they say. We either improve or risk being left in the dust by other countries.

Whether they’re right or wrong remains to be seen. But let’s assume that more innovation is a good thing. Achieving that goal is easier said than done. Simply put, fostering innovation is a complex process that varies widely across industries. 

“But Google’s done it,” you might say, “so why can’t my organization?” That’s a valid point, and my experience at Google has offered me insights into how it has managed to propel thousands of employees toward a shared goal of creativity, innovation and success. It was a deliberate strategy when the company was founded in 1998, and still permeates everything we do today. How? 

Google has established a culture where employees live and breathe the six tenets of innovation. The first five are communicating a clear and ambitious vision; creating a transparent work environment; understanding that good ideas come from everywhere; embracing the fact that data beats opinions; and knowing that the most important asset a company has are its people. Perhaps the most important: a shared passion for what we call moonshot, or 10x, thinking. 

You’ve likely heard about big-picture projects such as Google’s efforts to perfect driverless cars, ensure worldwide Internet access using sub-atmospheric balloons or turn Google Glass into a wearable-tech staple. But none of these ideas were mandated by our C-suite executives; they were developed when employees identified practical problems that needed real-world solutions. Staff had the time to do that kind of big-picture development because our leaders built a culture where game-changing thinking is encouraged at every turn. 

Many of Google’s moonshot ideas have gone from wild-eyed dreams to marketable products and services because our employees have the platforms to speak to each other, share their amazingly creative ideas and work with colleagues to turn these seemingly impossible plans into revenue-driving initiatives. That’s assuming the concepts make it past the initial idea stages, and most of them do not. 

The challenge for many organizations is a lack of meaningful contact with their employees. They can send company-wide emails or memos, but that interaction tends to be a monologue, not a dialogue. By contrast, ours is a culture of conversation between management and employees. Using cloud-based technologies, for example, companies can share their vision with staff, solicit ideas and make organization-wide improvements that create the conditions for engagement and growth. In that sense, we’ve used technology to our communicative advantage since day one. We quickly learned how that kind of dialogue also helps turn employees into advocates.

Let me explain. Advocates will promote your brand, ideas and products or services in the marketplace without being prompted. Imagine not just having your staff show up for work on time but also knowing that every one of them is committed to the same goal – your organization’s success – while constantly broadcasting the same positive messaging. Googlers are our strongest brand advocates, which helps explain our ability to constantly innovate and remain at the forefront of the digital industry. 

Canadian organizations lag their global competitors when it comes to producing brand advocates. That’s because many rely on antiquated communications platforms that are often too cumbersome and expensive to upgrade.  

In Forrester Research Inc.’s 2012 Forrester Telecom and Mobility Workforce Survey, a stunning 72 per cent of employees polled globally said they preferred the technology they have at home to the devices they use every day at work. PwC’s 2014 Global CEO Survey found that 81 per cent of CEOs believe technological advances are the global trend that will transform their organization the most over the next five years.

If Canadian companies hope to compete and rise to the top of innovation rankings the world over, they need to invest in the necessary communications tools to turn employees into advocates, while building cultures that encourage a healthy degree of 10x thinking. It’s a challenging task, but remember – a small group of developers used that very approach to take Google from a fledgling search engine firm to the world’s leading digital innovator in just 16 years. 

So, to answer that earlier question, there’s no reason why your organization can’t achieve what ours has. You just need to be willing to shoot for the moon. 

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