Social entrepreneur Dave Wilkin is the founder of Toronto-based Ten Thousand Coffees.
If organizations are not tapping into the next generation of ideas and talent, they won't exist in 10 to 15 years.
Unfortunately, buying Ping-Pong tables, hosting quarterly hackathons, installing whiteboards and throwing away your old dress code isn't the quick-fix solution. Leaders see these tactics and convince themselves they are ready for innovation when, in fact, the critical ingredients of innovation are missing.
Executives often have the de facto ingredients for innovation but are missing the critical cultural-ecosystem readiness and mindset to change. These two tests will help any manager or executive evaluate whether their culture is primed and ready for the next generation.
Problem vs. solution
The test: Survey your employees and ask them to articulate the single most important problem your organization is solving in 140 characters or less.
Are employees defining a solution or a problem?
Believe it or not, in 2000, Reed Hastings, founder of Netflix, flew to meet the chief executive of Blockbuster to propose a partnership and got laughed out of the room. Now, Netflix is worth more than 10 times more than Blockbuster in its peak years. Nice work, Reed. Blockbuster was obsessed with its solution and not the core problem. It was never about video rentals at a local store; it was about making it easy for consumers to access entertainment.
When employees understand the problem it provides them with the ability to think about the 10-times solution, which may be completely different than what the business is doing today. It creates permission to develop ideas and products that may be competitive with their current business and share these ideas openly with their colleagues, managers, and executives. When you're obsessed with your solution, and not the problem, thinking differently and dreaming big is limited by the parameters of your current hero product, which is unlikely to be around in 10 years anyway.
The test: How many collisions have your employees had in the last two weeks? Ask employees who they have had lunch or coffee with. If it's with someone they functionally work with, or are already friends with: not a collision. If it's a new colleague that recently got hired, someone they want to learn from, or a colleague from a different function: it's a collision.
In 2000, Pixar purposefully designed its office to have different people physically colliding. Ed Catmull, president of Pixar, worked with Steve Jobs and shared specifically why they did this: "The philosophy behind this design is that it's good to put the most important function at the heart of the building. Well, what's our most important function? It's the interaction of our employees."
We call these experiences "collisions." They are created when two people, from different backgrounds or skill areas, come together to share an idea, build a relationships and mutually learn.
Serendipity is not enough – organizations need to help every employee build diverse relationships, think differently, ask questions and continuously learn from colleagues outside of their day-to-day. A collision strategy will help every employee connect with new colleagues pro-actively; it's the single most important driver of innovation and creativity.
Ready to take action? Next steps you can immediately apply
1. Survey employees and ask them to define your biggest problem in 140 characters or less. Turn this content into a leadership opportunity to articulate your priorities and focus areas.
2. Create an organized program where every employee meets someone new, for a collision, every two weeks. Collisions are critical and, despite an open-concept office, people do not do this on their own. We like to use coffee, as it keeps it organic, authentic, yet effective.