Dollars and Sense: Innovation comes from every employee

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Innovation is hot. Virtually every business seeks it and wants as much as it can get. Yet, only a precious few organizations really understand how to obtain it and continue it for the long haul.

Consider the state of the U.S. auto industry. The so-called &8220;big three&8221; companies are losing vast sums of money, continuing to lay off thousands of workers, constantly shifting their business strategies and are generally struggling to get consumers to buy many of the products they produce.

In the midst of all this, their chief rival, Toyota, has become the world&8217;s number two automaker and is likely to overtake General Motors for the No. 1 spot, within the next 12 to 24 months.

Toyota keeps hitting home runs, producing vehicles that consumers want to and do buy.

While their U.S. competitors shrink, Toyota keeps building new facilities and hiring thousands of new employees.

The differences between Toyota and the big three automakers are numerous but at the end of the day, Toyota wins because of one major difference &045;&045; their ability to drive and sustain innovation throughout every aspect of their far-flung world wide operations.

So how does Toyota do it? Do they follow the lead of many companies, lots of innovation focused executive committees, high dollar consultants and special innovation project teams?

The answer to that question is no. Toyota&8217;s approach is much more basic &045;&045; innovation is expected from every employee and thus the ability to continually innovate successfully is just the way &045;&045; they do business.

So what&8217;s the lesson that we can learn from Toyota? We need to throw out whatever ideas we harbor about how to drive innovation and get back to basics. So often management stifles innovation without realizing it. People first and foremost drive innovation. Management&8217;s No. 1 mistake is not getting people involved and engaged in the business, thus creating a natural barrier to innovation.

I challenge you to start getting the people in your organization excited about making innovation part of how you do business. As Toyota has shown us, it&8217;s simple really.