As the head of IP and broadband development for Ericsson in Silicon Valley, Maya Strelar-Migotti wrestles with a problem that you hear many leaders of huge, global companies worry about all the time: Now that we’re gigantic and hidebound, how do we keep that start-up-like passion for innovation?
Strelar-Migotti told a cavernous room of entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs at TiEcon 2013 this weekend that she came up with a six-part recipe to get the innovation mojo going at the Sweden-based telecom company.
1. Legitimize Innovation
2. Emphasize Learning
3. Appeal to Internal Motivation
4. Have a Method for Innovation
5. Encourage Collaboration
6. Anticipate Customer Needs.
Before you say, “duh,” I should say I can elaborate in a minute. But first it’s interesting to note that Strelar-Migotti’s initiatives were born of something of a culture shock. When she came to the United States four years ago, it was the fifth country she would work in for Ericsson. And let’s just say Silicon Valley was unlike anyplace she had been before, lending support to the notion that the valley indeed has a unique innovation culture.
“You come here where companies are giving employees one day a week to innovate,” she told the crowd at TiEcon, an annual tech and networking fest that draws thousands. Her outfit wasn’t in a position to do that, she said, so she asked herself: “How can you enable this innovation?”
She started with the legitimize innovation idea and with setting aside 1 percent of her budget (“which is very big”) to create an innovation culture.
“We said, ‘Let’s make it the venture capital model,” Strelar-Migotti explained while speaking on the TiEcon Women’s Forum stage. “We give people that qualify for the ideas one week of experimentation. We give them $500 to buy books and some software and so on.”
Then they go to work on their ideas, continuing on with more time and more support as long as the idea continues to hold promise.
Next on Strelar-Migotti’s list is emphasize learning, particularly figuring out “how do you dare to innovate.” Believe it or not, failure still has something of a stigma, more so in some cultures, Strelar-Migotti says, than in others.
“We need to demystify failure,” she says. Ericsson leaders need to spread the word that failure is OK, that it can be useful and educational.
“People should not actually give up when they fail.”
On to appealing to internal motivation. Strelar-Migotti says she is trying to tap into internal motivation by giving employees awards. “We don’t give money,” she says. I’d argue that money is a really, really great reward, but Ericsson has other ideas.
What they give, Strelar-Migotti explained, is recognition for the best manager, in terms of fostering innovation, the best ideas, the best facilitator, even the best failure.
“We recognize there are many different roles if you want to have this,” she says of an innovation culture.
Companies have a method for sales and design and testing, why not have a method for innovation? Strelar-Migotti asked. Ericsson in Silicon Valley is working with the creativity gurus at IDEO to figure out how to best “unleash the power of the people going forward.”
Create spaces that encourage collaboration, Strelar-Migotti suggested, and though she wasn’t specific, I’m thinking kitchens, lounge areas and foosball tables. (OK, not every idea is an original idea.) She wants to get managers together with people who can make ideas happen and she wants idea people to mingle with managers and facilitators.
Finally, Strelar-Migotti says it’s important to anticipate customer needs. One way to stay ahead of the market is to know what your customers need maybe before they’ve figured it out themselves.
“We have to innovate to resolve something,” she says. “If you look at the iPhone or iPad, all these things came from anticipating what we as a user would need in our lives to make it better.”
Then, of course, you just need to go out and make what ever it is that will do just that.