Senior executives from tech companies including Amazon Web Services discuss the key themes surrounding innovation and how to make a success of ideas
Creating a “mini-Silicon Valley” community of idea makers can help to mould a culture of innovation within an organisation.
That’s the view of Kevin O’Connor, who believes workplace democracy is the best way to take new concepts forward into the marketplace.
He is speaking during a panel discussion as part of the launch of a new report by Cass Business School, on on behalf of cloud software provider VMware.
Titled Innovating in the Exponential Economy, it explores the gap between where ideas originate and how they are executed within businesses.
Kevin, managing director and head of private equity at financial services company IHS Markit, says: “We like to have a mini-Silicon Valley effect where we have a community of people who understand what we want to do.
“That kind of culture and framework is when you start making stuff happen because an idea in isolation is a seed in concrete – it can’t take root.”
Compelo joins the roundtable discussion – which also included business leaders from Amazon, a multinational media company, UK tech body and VMware, which is part of the Dell Technologies group.
Innovation is a muscle
Sporting analogy is used to describe innovation by Kevin, who believes the more you kick ideas around, the greater chance of success.
He says: “It’s like innovation is this Holy Grail that one day you’ll find and then – boom – it takes off.
“But innovation is a muscle or skill. The more you practice it, the more you get it. It really becomes part of your day-to-day ritual.
“You take on bigger and bigger projects to the point where you get a track record of having good feedback and then using it more.”
History’s best innovations weren’t completely new
Joe Baguley, chief technology officer at VMware EMEA, says: “Innovation is rarely something new, it’s taking two or three things and doing them in an innovative way.
“If you look at the best innovations throughout history, that’s what’s happened. But it relies on having a solid framework that allows agility.”
Organisational resilience will help when the time comes to execute an idea in the marketplace, Joe believes.
“A lot of companies aren’t positioned to take advantage of the opportunities in front of them.
“I’ve had the experience before where we’ve had a good idea but going out to find someone who can make it happen is quite difficult.
“Aligning with a world where people are ready to take those bets is important.
“Our organisation is famous for innovative technology but this comes out of a culture where everything is possible.
“But it’s all focused on a goal of what we are here to do, which is serve customers better.
“So we don’t just encourage people to innovate but put in place the machinery to make it work.”
Amazon is comfortable with failure – and rewards its innovators
Boldness has paid off for Amazon’s on-demand cloud computing platform business, believes its boss.
Amazon Web Services (AWS) was launched to the public in 2004 and now has global revenues of $17.4 billion (£12.4 billion).
Head of UK and EMEA Gavin Jackson says: “How many boardrooms would have agreed to fund a company that says it will change the way technology is consumed?” he says.
“Most companies would have laughed you out of the boardroom, so we’re very comfortable with failure and think long-term about it.”
IBM had a policy in the 1990s where employees who came up with ideas were given a percentage of the money saved by the company.
Amazon offers bigger career opportunities for its idea makers – even those who aren’t as successful as hoped.
Gavin says: “The person who came up with Amazon Prime Now is now heading it up.
“We reward in failure too. The team who came up with the failed Amazon Fire phone are now mainly intact and working on the Amazon Echo.”
Innovation should always be about customer needs
Gavin says a crucial point of AWS’ success has involved working out specific customers’ needs before generating ideas.
“For us, it’s working back from the customer and working out who they are and what they need first,” he adds.
“Some of the mistakes you see at times is when an organisation has a very macro point of view and just look at large enterprises.
“But for us it’s Jane in accounts, who’s struggling every day to get work done before she has to go pick up her children from school.
“So our challenge is to find ways of helping her work faster.”
Sue Daley, head of programme for cloud, data, analytics and AI at technology industry group techUK, agrees.
She says: “It’s not just innovation for innovation’s sake, it has to address a business problem, aim or objective.
“Any transformational journey has to start from what the goal is.”
Different regions and organisations want different ideas
Gideon Kay, group CEO of multinational media and digital marketing agency Dentsu Aegis, says: “Many ideas will only work in a particular geography or for a particular client or industry.
“I’ve often seen innovation fail because people want to roll it out across the board.
“Sometimes you have to step back and say this innovation will really work in Asia, for example, but not in Europe.”