Innovate or Die

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Acclaimed entrepreneur and internet personality, Gary Vaynerchuk, recently launched a YouTube video that portrays his view on the recent bankruptcy of Toys r Us.  He credits Toys R Us demise on their failure to innovate.  Business leaders were content to just sell toys.  They didn’t care about the booming internet, they weren’t interested in creating customer experiences..... they rested on their laurels and dismissed change.  

Achieving a competitive advantage in the marketplace is the recipe for success.  With social, economic, and technological trends morphing faster than they ever have before, it is imperative that leaders stay ahead of the curve and find new ways to stay relevant.  Innovation, vitality, reinvention… call it what you want, organizations must walk the talk and implement progressive workplace strategies that drive employees to the next big thing.  

Think of Netflix.  Remember the excitement you felt retrieving that red square envelope from your mailbox?  After days of waiting, your new release movie DVD had arrived!  That phenomenon was launched 20 years ago by Netflix.  Today, Netflix is rated #7 on the top innovative companies according to Fast Company.  How did they get there?  Time and time again Netflix upped the ante and offered bigger and better experiences for the user.  In 2007 they moved into streaming video which increased subscriptions leaps and bounds.  Years later they premiered their first original series “House of Cards” which was so widely successful it led to over 50 original series available today.  And most recently, Netflix implemented a user interface upgrade which replaced the static poster images with live trailers that automatically play when you scroll over a title.  Brilliant.  Netflix didn’t rest with their first success.  They kept the innovation flowing.

So what drives employees at Netflix to be creative?  Leaders boast their unique workplace culture is a catalyst for innovation.  Take for instance their unlimited vacation policy.  Employees are encouraged to take as much personal time needed to recharge and refresh their mind, so long as they remain accountable for their work and return amped with new inspiration.

While unlimited vacation is not feasible for all organizations, encouraging some freedom within the workday can inspire employees to push the envelope .  Traditionally, professional service firms require employees to track billable hours to be charged back for revenue.  The less overhead you have, the more profitable a company is, right?  Not necessarily.  Employees who focus all their time and effort on client specific tasks can fall short on innovation.  Appearing busy and reaching quarterly goals is important, but when success is measured merely on quantity, the quality of work can be sacrificed leading to a stale and complacent state of affairs.   Companies who encourage employees to add value by thinking outside the box and initiating superior solutions are far better off in the long run.  Perhaps implementing a quota for ‘innovation’ hours to your timesheet system is a valuable proposition?

Netflix also prides themselves on their fun and progressive work environment.  Their headquarters office in Los Gatos, CA features an open plan concept with height adjustable desks, a variety of shared spaces for employees to gather and collaborate, and privacy booths for intense focus work.  Day in and day out you’ll find employees hashing out the next big thing on the rooftop deck, or mapping out ideas on writeable walls in the super cool lounge spaces, or concentrating on tactical objectives in zoomy personal pods.  

While assigned desk space is practical for most companies, it’s the alternative work areas that play a huge role in making the magic happen.  According to Haworth’s Ideation team, research shows to optimize innovation the brain needs to experience two different types of thinking – convergent and divergent thinking.  And we need to encounter these thought processes both independently as well as with others.   Convergent thinking requires high focus, stability, and predictability whereas divergent thinking is best supported by flexibility, spontaneity, and rest.   Designing a workplace for the whole brain that enables both heads down, private work as well as restorative, collaborative work to cultivate ideas is crucial for innovation.  Employees who adopt a natural rhythm of focus and down-time are more likely to tap into their creative zone.   So, consider designating real estate and budget allowances for these juxtaposed spaces to deliver more innovative brainpower.

With this rapidly changing, global economy organizations feel pressure to innovate.  Complacency is not an option.  Whether it’s finessing workplace policies, or breathing new life into the office environment, finding the right strategies within your workplace culture to boost vitality, inspiration, and engagement is critical for success. 


Michelle Eckhart
Director of Ideation
PMC Commercial Interiors