Analyzing innovation Featured

9:50am EDT July 22, 2002

Walk into some organizations and there is a certain electricity in the air. You can feel it pulsating in the voices wafting over cubicles and resonating in hallways chats. These are the innovative organizations known for the creative company they keep.

This year’s harvest of SBN innovators certainly demonstrate that it takes an appetite for rewriting the rules to join the ranks of celebrated innovators. Several practices set these shining stars apart from those who only dream of becoming as brilliant.

Innovators recognize innovation as a strategic tool.

Building a strong brand quickly has played a pivotal role in Crooked River Brewing Co.’s comeback plan. With an innovation-driven, industry-blazing concept-to-market cycle of 45 days with its Expansion Draft beer, Chris Livingston suggests that innovation “is how we get noticed” in the crowded microbrewery field.

Today’s innovators leverage innovation as a strategic tool for standing on the shoulders of those who allow the success of past innovations to prevent replacement by a new generation of innovations. Innovators instead embrace the emergent as it fuels the most valuable asset in any enterprise: The market’s attention.

Innovators hire in creativity.

In the last eight years of getting real results from virtual offices, Data Now’s Karen Brown has discovered the immeasurable value of hiring in the creativity you need to be an innovator. The lessons learned in this bold venture start with the fact that skill development dollars go much farther when invested in people who come to the table creative.

An added bonus is that motivations are high when hired in skill levels allow her to develop jobs around the talent rather than trying to squeeze talent into pre-formed jobs. And why not? As Brown proposes, “We try not to rely heavily on old rules.”

Innovators are organized for creativity.

With 450 franchises, ProForma’s Greg Muzzillo creates an environment known more for freedom than management. Over the past 20 years, he has built a culture that thrives on the “very informal.”

People have the freedom to innovate, and more important, the ideas driving innovation capital in one operation are cross-bred across franchises.

“Every day we wake up and do something new,” Muzzillo reports. Innovators don’t manage innovation by waiting or hoping for it to occur. They know that innovations spring only from the kind of culture that can ignite and sustain it.

Innovators leverage the magic of collaboration.

When your business depends on dozens of creative people cooking up technologies that handle the complex world of event logistics, new ideas need to flow wide and deep in the organization.

“We just bleed ideas here,” says PlanSoft’s Ed Tromczynski. What this innovator has done is develop a system for facilitating the kinds of collaborations that craft coherent innovations from the creative abrasion of diverse minds at work. It is one of many innovators discovering the alchemy of collaboration in the innovation process.

The lessons extracted from this year’s bumper crop of innovation leaders speak volumes about the importance of putting innovation at the top of any growing enterprise’s list of capital assets, then creating the kind of organization that unleashes the potential of these assets. As Chris Livingston aptly represents it, “We like it out on the edge” — the cutting edge where leaders are known to pioneer.

Jack Ricchiuto is a Cleveland-based management consultant. He can be reached at .