According to Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas, all organisms have souls. And according to many philosophers through the centuries, souls are incorporeal, meaning they don’t need a physical body in order to exist. Heady stuff, and even more so when you think about it in terms of corporations having souls. I suggest that corporations do have souls, and that their souls are reflected in the innovations they bring to market.
At Vantis we talk constantly about innovation. We think, eat, sleep and breathe it as we are focused on how to cull the best of innovation from our client companies. One of my favorite tenets of innovation comes from our President, Jason Brown. He is steadfast in his belief that “every idea deserves a fighting chance.” This is certainly not to say that every idea sees the light of day, gets fully developed, money from the CFO, and makes a company a gazillion dollars. It is to say that every idea deserves a vetting for potential.
Ideas Have Identities
Sometimes They are Good – Sometimes they are Bad
Companies must have a way to differentiate good ideas from bad ones. The good ideas are, of course, those that deliver profitable revenue. But too many ideas get killed because of subjective criteria that has little to do with the merits of the idea itself. It’s equally true of ideas that get the support they need to become products, are often fostered for reasons other than their intrinsic merits.
I can’t tell you how many times I encounter a dreaded lack of enthusiasm from a product group because they are being asked to support an idea they believe to be a stinker. These are typically ideas that have moved upstream from “elsewhere” in the organization with little or no involvement from the product group now charged with bringing them to market. There’s a dangerous disconnect here: all too often we see mass production of so-so products that are born from tepid ideas.
OLED TVs Are the New Frontier and Kodak Could Have Been the Leader
I am writing this post from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, NV. One of the more remarkable innovations being showcased this year by some of the TV manufacturers is Organic Light-Emitting Diode (OLED) technology. This is truly remarkable technology and will arguably get us all to shed the LCD TVs we purchased in the last decade for new OLED TVs. The colors are spectacular, the blacks are blacker, and the contrasts seem to be better than anything before OLED.
OLED uses organic electroluminescence to produce these brilliant colors and contrast. I was first made aware of this technology more than ten years ago while working with Eastman Kodak. One of the challenges they faced while trying to commercialize the technology was electrifying the organic matter with low voltage. Previously the technology required excessively high voltage to create the luminescence. Eastman Kodak solved the problem of high-voltage consumption by creating a novel, two-layer substrate that enables low-power electroluminescence.
So what happened? Why is Kodak navigating through the backwater channels of bankruptcy while its competitors are poised to reap the benefits of Kodak’s work? Eastman Kodak was a huge company that had tremendous resources to bring ideas such as OLED to market. I don’t presume to know why they were unsuccessful at commercializing this great idea, but I do know that they spent far too much of their equities trying to preserve revenue from their legacy film business. I can only guess that whatever patents Kodak had in OLED were recently sold in a patent auction during bankruptcy.
What is the Balance that Creates A Company’s Soul?
I do know that when there is a proper listening across all divisions within a company, good ideas get a fighting chance. A litmus test for good ideas is that sometimes they just don’t die. In the case of OLED, companies other than Kodak will benefit from its commercialization. Corporations are uniquely qualified to kill great ideas. Politics, interdepartmental rivalries, corporate hegemony, and simple inertia are powerful enemies to innovation.
In an ideal world the process of turning good ideas into great products is organic. Much like OLED, ideas become electrified. With the right support from the top all the way through an organization, a good idea can build the momentum and excitement it needs to make it into the market. In essence, good ideas become great products, and feed the soul of innovation for that corporation.
But we all know circumstances aren’t always ideal. In the absence of an organic, perfectly balanced environment for innovation, companies can learn and introduce conscious change. Scott Anthony, author of The Little Black Book of Innovation, suggests that there are four “ingredients” an organization can introduce to begin to develop a culture of innovation that builds on itself.
These ingredients are:
- The right people.
- Appropriate rewards and incentives.
- A common language.
- Leadership role-modeling.
I suggest a quick read of this excellent book. It supports the idea that innovation is the soul of an organization. It also suggests that souls have another quality that company leaders can appreciate… they outlive the individuals that carry them.
Vice President, Vantis