Are You Really Ready for Disruptive Innovation?

Innovation is like ice cream – it sounds great and comes in many different flavors. But innovation is not always a simple or quick decision for any organization, not even for those that make continuous transformation look easy and seamless like Salesforce – the company that pioneered and continues to dominate the now crowded Customer Relationship Management (CRM) market – has always been innovative. As its founder and CEO Marc Beinoff remarked in his Consumer Electronics Show keynote address earlier this year, an innovative spirit fuels almost everything Salesforce does today.

Are we open to reshuffling the talent deck and breaking the rules?

At Salesforce, executive support for disruptive innovation is extremely high. CEO Benioff is active on Chatter, its internal social networking tool, personally commenting on employee profiles and encouraging them to share perspectives on “what’s next.” A dedicated Product Manager for Ideas stimulates and curates the conversation among Salesforce stakeholders – employees, customers and partners – to uncover both smaller scale improvement opportunities and bold, leapfrog business model innovation ideas.

Once an exciting idea is in hand, going after big innovation goals needs a top-flight and passionately committed team. This could include high potentials, mavericks, or complainers who want to tear down how things are done now and build a better way. Keep in mind, while the innovation gang is off dream hunting, you will need to fill their void. When you find the right entrepreneurial spirit, these people will need to be pulled out of their day jobs to focus on the innovation assignment full time. Big opportunities cannot be tackled after hours at night and on weekends. There is a limit to how far people can take an idea during down time. And you must be willing to leave them alone to get the job done. That means granting freedom to come and go, disregarding policies and procedures, and making quick decisions without running up the chain of command. Clear guidelines and a high degree of trust in all involved are critical.

These questions are just the beginning. Along the path to disruption there will be countless other strategic decisions leaders must work through together. Success demands a big dose of courage, high tolerance for uncertainty, and considerable confidence in your ability to confront the sticking points head on. One thing is certain: it is a messy process with sweet rewards.

Now, who wants some ice cream?

Patrice Murphy is a senior partner and Danny Dworkin is a principal at Schaffer Consulting.


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