At one time the Hewlett Packard used the slogan "Invent". I am not sure whether they still use this or not and honestly stopped paying attention to HP about the time the slogan should have been changed to "React". A once great innovative firm became reduced to  rock star CEO trying to create "synergies" and cost reductions through mergers and taking the path of other large corporations. It killed them.

The single most important force in moving business forward is innovation. Innovation in products, processes, services, hiring, etc. Is it always successful? No, but it is necessary. The last decade in American business should be framed as one of little innovation by most firms and rather a shift to increase productivity. Productivity increases can only carry you so far. When they run out and you find you are running the race no faster than the competition, what do you do then?

Innovation from the top does happen in firms, but it is reliant on the very few and those few may not always be as in tune with the desires and proclivities of their customer base as the front line personnel. It is for this reason that I advocate for a bottom up innovation culture.

There was no rockstar CEO that could give HP the innovation it once had, no matter how much they were paid. If we look at the employment descriptions on HP's website you would see a list of very specific requirements for each position listed. So specific that any there is no room for the talent that could come in and innovate. In fact, when was the last time any company instructed its human resources people to find employees that are creative, talented, and innovative with the intent of training them in the specifics once hired? Most job posts are just like HP's. Stale. HR can be such an innovation killer in their quest to standardize everything.

But startup companies want to be innovative even a disrupter, right? As such companies need to realize that there are insights, ideas, and concepts just waiting to bubble up from within work force. How do companies capture this energy? A form on the company website is not enough. Skip the suggestion box. Those are just stupid.

First question we must all ask is, have we allowed the culture of business disruption to disseminate itself throughout every aspect of our business? Have we been expecting military style obedience from our employees or have we created times where their potential rebelliousness and brilliance have been cultivated and captured? Was the expectation at hiring, "Do everything we ask." or was it "Take responsibility for the company's success and help us continue to be better."?

Whether you have one employee or one thousand, there is surely an idea just hanging out there that will make all the difference and differentiate you from your competitors. How do we bring it to the forefront? How do you turn it into innovation?

Skip the corporate keywords. Be willing to admit the company fucked up. Don't ever buy employee engagement programs from consultants. As Manoj Bhargava says, a consultant is an expert on what was, not what will be.

Go out and find a local improv actor. Bring them in for an employee warm up or set out a bin full of Legos and create. Sincerely foster the process from the bottom and the results will amaze you.

Featured image courtesy of Flickr, available under aCreative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license


Brian McKay is a co-founder of Zenruption and has his MBA from Boise State University. In the past, most employers have regarded him as far too rebellious to be of any benefit to them. He decided to channel that rebellion to zenruption instead. The corporate key word "laser focus" makes him cringe and throw up in his mouth a little.