The word “innovation” might be an overused buzzword in today’s business world, but there’s no denying that fresh value-creating ideas can open up new revenue streams and customer bases which could determine the future of your company.
This is probably why so many companies are scrambling to build an innovative culture. Unfortunately, not all companies have got it down pat. According to a McKinsey survey, 84% of executives agree that innovation is important to their growth strategy, but only 6% are satisfied with their innovation performance.
Why? It’s simple. They haven’t found what works.
There are many factors which come into play when you want to innovate. But perhaps one of the biggest bedrocks for innovation is the right company culture.
So how does one create an innovative company culture?
The people who know best are of course the people who do it the most. We had a quick chat with industry leaders — both startups and the big boys — to see how they steer their companies towards innovation.
Read on to get insights from:
Brage Johansen, CEO of Zaptec — one of the most forward-looking Norwegian tech companies with a space program.
Rafiq Razali, CEO of Media Prima Digital — Malaysia’s largest fully-integrated media company.
Greg Paull, Co-Founder of R3 — a global consultancy which works with the world’s top marketers.
Shakira Shanaz, Head of Operations of KFit Group — Southeast Asia’s fastest growing online-to-offline platform.
Wai Hong Fong, Co-Founder of Storehub — a cloud-based retail management system that has revolutionized the retail market in Malaysia and beyond.
Jessica Li, Co-Founder of dahmakan — the fastest growing food tech startup in Southeast Asia.
Brage Johansen is the CEO of Zaptec, a Norwegian tech company which, in just 3 years, has revolutionized the global electric mobility industry with their patented portfolio of solutions for supercompact power electronics and transformers.
Having the ability to pack so much power in an incredibly tiny package has enabled Zaptec to explore any industry where power plays a significant role. Zaptec is now transforming solar power, electric vehicle-charging, infrastructure, aviation and space exploration across the globe.
In 2016, Zaptec launched three new products — including ZapCharger, the world’s first portable charging station for electric vehicles, and ZapSafety, the world’s first supercompact isolation transformer for the industrial safety market.
They are also collaborating with NASA and ESA to develop their core technology for operations on asteroids and drilling on Mars.
So how does Zaptec, a company with a space program and plans to conquer space drive innovation?
Three major factors drive innovation within Zaptec:
1. A long-term vision and technology plan
This plan shows how we want to improve and change the world’s electric infrastructure, in all industries.
2. Vigorous network expansion
We systematically increase our network, public outreach and number of Zappers (groupies), which again stimulates Zaptec’s innovation process with ideas and support.
3. A supportive organisational structure
To give room to innovation, we have organised our activities in daughter companies that can evolve separately.
Zaptec Charger (ZC) is responsible for all products on charging electric cars and building massive charging infrastructures. ZC has a strict focus on sales and finishing the engineering around these products. The creative force now lies with Zaptec Power (ZP), which is developing next generation Zaptechnology and exploring many new markets.
We found it very beneficial to divide innovative forces and focus on different daughter companies.
While we do not have any structured methods or meetings to stimulate innovations, we found it important to create an environment where innovation can happen.
We have a culture of open communication, humor and creativity so that ideas within the Zaptec architecture can flourish. We use Slack to share articles, opinions, ideas and customer feedback within our teams.
Rafiq Razali is the CEO of Media Prima Digital — the digital arm of Media Prima Berhad, Malaysia’s largest fully-integrated media company with equity interests in television stations, newspapers, radio stations and digital media.
It operates Malaysia’s 4 leading free-to-air TV stations, some of the country’s most popular radio stations and also owns Malaysia’s largest publisher with 3 national newspapers.
Media Prima Digital manages the online operations for all the TV and radio networks under Media Prima and is charged with the long-term growth of the group as traditional print media circulation declines.
Innovation wasn’t a key focus for the Media Prima Group as it was the biggest player of its kind in the Malaysian media market and did not have to innovate much to grow.
However, digital disruption and a poor economy the past couple of years has spurred Media Prima Group to really start changing the way they operate.
Aiming for a bigger presence in digital, the Group has launched Media Prima Labs, an in-house incubator for innovation which produces new digital products and services.
Media Prima Labs has launched 8 apps to date and will be launching another 5 in the coming months. The apps have garnered over 1 million downloads to date, which was double what the team had expected.
How does Malaysia’s leading digital media group drive innovation?
The key ingredients to me are the 3 things I live by at work, which are:
- Control the controllables
- Always start from the customer
- Great people make great companies
It’s the same when it comes to driving a high innovation culture.
Right now, what we are focusing on is to:
This is so that the team understands what we want to do and what their roles are in this transformation, and to also manage stakeholders not in the team so that we get their support to continue.
Encourage Conversation, Even with Top Management
We encourage people in the team to speak up or provide feedback at all times.
Some of our projects are driven from top down, but we do have a couple that has started from the team. For instance we are now working on an app that’ll help us sell our billboard inventories better. That was the brainchild of someone from our team, and it immediately got the buy-in from everyone.
He was passionate about it and did a mock-up of the product on his own time. One day he just came up to me and presented it. I thought it was great, so I made the necessary arrangements to push it through.
Create a Supportive Environment for Projects to Succeed
We really incubate our projects. We create a support environment so that our projects can flourish (the eco system of marketing, tech, design, data etc), but also allow the project manager enough autonomy to just do what needs to be done to improve the product.
This means that we continue even if the product cannibalizes an existing business, is “off-brand”, or any other form of corporate red tape. To ensure that innovation happens, the initiatives that are run needs to be protected.
Align the Goals of Project Managers with the Support Structures
We assign each project to a project manager, but we ensure that they get all the help they need from a marketing, tech, data etc standpoint. The support structures’ goals are also aligned with the goals of the project manager, so collaboration is a lot smoother. This ensures that the project manager can spend as much time as possible improving & innovating the product.
Greg Paull is the Co-Founder and Principal of R3 Worldwide — a global consultancy focused on improving the effectiveness and efficiency of marketers and their agencies.
The most experienced consultancy of its kind, R3 has offices across the globe, with over 100 employees in the US, Asia, Europe as well as Latin America.
R3 currently works with some of the world’s top marketers, including Coca-Cola, Unilever, AB InBev, MasterCard, Mercedes Benz, Johnson & Johnson, Samsung, and Kimberly Clark.
So how does a company with employees across the globe drive cross-border innovation?
We try to do a couple of things well —
Every week our teams share best practices with each other in a formal Tuesday Sharing session locally. Everyone gives feedback and that builds the learning curve. The presentation decks are then shared across our offices. Once a year, the entire global team flies into a city for three days of knowledge sharing.
“Can Do” Award
Once a month we pay a bonus to a team of individuals who go above and beyond — people that have used their own initiatives and broken the rules, gone the extra mile, or done something exceptional.
Global office transfers
For a small company, we work hard on moving talent around. Seven of our US team came from Shanghai. Our best researcher in Singapore came from R3 Vietnam. A new talent in R3 Beijing moved from R3 Shanghai. Our best analyst in London moved from R3 Singapore. We work under a single global profit & loss statement so there are no barriers to driving this movement.
It’s pretty simple — companies won’t hire us unless we can help them lead at innovation. It’s not something we can do “by the way”, it’s something that has to be the core of our DNA to fuel growth. Today, half our revenue is linked to digital — up from 25% three years ago. It’s because we want to make a difference. See how we’ve helped HSBC innovate digitally here.
Head of Operations
KFit Group is the fastest growing online-to-offline (o2o) local commerce company in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong. Beginning in 2015 as a fitness sharing platform, it has since expanded its offerings to include restaurants, beauty & wellness, lifestyle and more.
In August this year, KFit Group acquired Groupon Indonesia, and in November, Groupon Malaysia, with a goal to innovate and localize, to succeed where Groupon US failed. Since it was acquired by KFit Group, Groupon Indonesia has achieved a growth of nearly 2x, according to KFit Group CEO Joel Neoh.
Moving so fast and decisively, how does KFit Group drive innovation?
As an organisation, we always work with end-goals in mind, and with everyone 100% focused on achieving them.
If we realize midway that we need to restructure our goals, either because of evolving business needs, or if we find a better way to approach things, we adapt accordingly.
We stop, brainstorm, align on the new way forward, and start executing.
I think in some ways this is how Fave, our O2O local commerce platform came about. Basically, we wanted to offer customers the same value proposition as we did for KFit, but across new verticals including dining, health and beauty, and entertainment.
As a fast-growing, local e-commerce company, we need to make sure we’re nimble but focused on what is is we are trying to achieve.
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that change is constant, but it’s up to us to find the most effective solution to each and every challenge.
Employ Great, Diverse People
I always believe that behind every great company, there are great people who are aligned towards organisational goals.
We’re lucky to have a solid team of people who each bring with them a wealth of experience — having previously worked in a variety of roles, industries, and countries.
Open Up the Floor for Ideas
At the same time, we really encourage independent thinking and problem solving within the team. We open the floor to anyone who wants to contribute their ideas, which is a great way for people to learn.
I remember there was once an intern here, who, on his second day with us, had some great ideas on how our app could be better. We had him discuss it directly with our CTO, and many of his suggestions were worked into our product pipeline. This is the kind of synergy we encourage at KFit group.
Wai Hong Fong
Wai Hong Fong is the co-founder of StoreHub, a cloud-based retail management system that replaces bulky and clunky cash registers with an iPad POS. The space-efficient system not only looks sleek and sexy, but comes packed with power and enables store owners manage their inventory, customer relationships and data in real time.
Founded in 2013, StoreHub’s innovative system has revolutionized the retail market in Malaysia and is now currently serves customers in over 12 countries.
How does a hyper-paced startup like StoreHub drive innovation?
Innovation is a result of two mindsets existing together.
The first is the freedom to engage new ideas.
At StoreHub we have a strong culture of giving positive affirmation to people when they try new things and fail, while giving negative affirmation when we see behavior that is ‘permission seeking’.
Our only caveat is that things be given sufficient thought. We also do not give weight to ideas based on who shares it i.e. positional influence but we give weight to ideas based on the merit of their reasoning.
The second mindset is a drive to constantly make things better.
Every new employee at Storehub will be reminded that their responsibility is not to simply work in(side) a process, but to also work on a process.
What this means is that if you’re in marketing, you’re not just following the manual to do your job, but you’re encouraged to find ways to make that ‘manual’ better.
When you combine both the freedom of idea generation and execution with the mindset of ongoing improvement, we find that people naturally find new ways to do old things and new things to embark on. This for us is innovation in action.
When we talk about making the lives of others better, innovation is key. New ideas alone don’t become meaningful until they partner with a real desire to improve things.
The future of StoreHub relies heavily on building teams that carry a healthy amount of both mindsets simply because that is where real value is created. A company that does not constantly seek to create more and more value will eventually fail to exist.
In 2014, Jessica Li co-founded Malaysian healthy food delivery service, dahmakan, to address the gap in the industry for healthy and affordable lunch options. Beginning with just 5 orders a day, dahmakan is now the fastest growing food tech startup in SouthEast Asia, backed by angel investors and is in talks with global venture capital firms.
So how does dahmakan, competing in the fast-moving space of F&B, drive innovation?
As a food tech startup, we don’t think about “innovation” as a function or strategy. Instead, dahmakan was born with the intention to create something new and to do things differently. Like a jigsaw puzzle player, we use the best practices and knowledge of different industries and combine them in a new way. Most of the time, the jigsaw pieces don’t fully fit so we have to slightly change their shape or in some cases completely reinvent them.
Keep testing, trying and improving
We try out and implement technology across every function e.g. to build a fully automated delivery system that makes decisions in real time with high efficiencies. Using machine learning and advanced technology, we have built a system that caters to on-demand orders at a third of the cost of traditional food delivery. We place high focus on our R&D team that compromises of ex-developers from Google, Stanford marketing talents and even 5-star chefs that are constantly working towards new innovations.
Create a conducive space
At dahmakan, we encourage ideation and cross-function discussion among teams to come up with new solutions by having an open plan space with mingled seating.
Celebrate both victories and failures
Ideas are great, but its all about fast execution and learning along the way. We encourage employees by making sure there isn’t a wrong or right approach until you execute it and we celebrate both victories and failures as a source of ongoing learning.
Another weekly initiative is our “Knowledge Flower” session where employees share their past experience and knowledge with other employees based on topics relevant to the organisation.
Set Clear Goals
Sometimes it’s hard to communicate your vision for innovation. Visual strategy tools help get your team on the same page when it comes to new ideas and implementation. Check out the Strategy Tools World Tour.