We built an innovation funnel to source ideas from across their organization that lowers operating costs and generates a pipeline of new business opportunities.
Fostering a Culture of Innovation and Building a Scalable and Repeatable Innovation Funnel
SearchCo is one of the most valuable and recognized technological giants in history. However, management did not reward the operations team for disruptive innovations. Instead, leadership remained focused on the key performance indicators (KPIs) of incremental improvements.
The Berkeley Innovation Group helped SearchCo build an innovation funnel to source ideas across the organization, fostering a culture of innovation. This combination of mindset and process increased the number of new ideas and the velocity of their implementation.
Sometimes even a company with a public perception of innovation and a history of disruption needs help reinforcing the mindset and defining the process of sourcing new ideas from across their organization.
Although SearchCo is one of the most valuable and recognized technological giants in history, it is not without its challenges. The formerly flexible, innovative startup mentality that helped the company reach great heights had calcified into an academic culture detrimental to progress.
Like every department at SearchCo, the team responsible for its data centers had an established set of OKRs (Operating and Key Results) focused on cost-effectiveness and construction efficiency. One great example of this phenomenon is the data centers division.
Within this division, the New Technologies team was the inward and outward-looking sensing function incorporating the latest innovations in data center design. Dominated by engineers with a long history of prioritizing accuracy and precision, New Technologies implemented incremental improvements, which was successful because this matched the pace of the internal users’ needs.
However, these OKRs became outdated as the data center customer transitioned from internal users with incremental requirements to external clients with exponentially increasing expectations of a cloud computing partner.
Basing the New Technologies team’s success metrics on an evolution of the status quo, such as the number of white papers published or the ultimate prize of securing a patent, the team was cultured and incentivized to work towards its semi-annual performance reviews. In essence, SearchCo had trained its employees to respond to a graded exam rather than ground-breaking, multi-year R&D projects.
In light of these challenges, SearchCo engaged the Berkeley Innovation Group to help foster a culture of innovation and co-create the tools to empower employees to think outside the box.
Central to design thinking is divergent thinking to frame the right questions before converging upon a solution. As with many organizations, the leadership of New Technologies sought to become “more innovative,” to address stubborn orthodoxies holding back performance.
However, our experiences told us that without understanding the root cause of these orthodoxies, any change would not be long-lasting.
Jeff Eyet, the co-founder of BIG, hypothesized that many good ideas were incubating among the division’s employees who regularly interacted with customers. Through internal and external user interviews and ethnographic research, he gathered data points, avoided the bias of a predetermined solution, and allowed the interviewees to light the path forward.
This work proved that lower-profile yet highly-interconnected teammates practicing empathy and informally sharing internal resources are best equipped to meet evolving customer needs.
Through continued interviews with internal stakeholders, Jeff met Mike, a mid-level leader. The latter saw an opportunity and thought, “there must be a better way,” to move physical materials around a facility. The typical process relies on the well-worn, multi-period path of delivering endless presentations, securing executive buy-in, and garnering a nine-figure budget. Instead, he had informal, whiteboard-based conversations with his immediate leaders, leveraged the small investments of internal resources, and used off-the-shelf technologies with an iterative prototyping methodology to meet a human-centered need in record time.
Inspired by Mike’s use of empathy, it didn’t take long for BIG to realize that, for SearchCo to meet its OKRs, the entire New Technologies team had to adopt elements of the design thinking mindset, namely creativity, collaboration, and synthesizing knowledge sitting in plain sight to create the “ah-ha!” moment. This led to the creation of an innovation funnel tailored to equip and enable employee-led innovations.
Mike’s adoption of the design thinking mindset and execution of the design thinking process inspired the BIG to formalize these qualities into a scaleable, repeatable innovation funnel based upon the principles of:
- collaboration among innovators to create robust,
- cross-functional solutions,
- knowledge sharing and resource matching,
- transparent evaluation criteria, and
- quick decision-making and resource allocation.
Ultimately, the innovation funnel delivered over twenty new ideas in the first three months.
Typically, executives lead with a top-down, patriarchal ethos designing strategy, implementing processes, and assessing results.
But in many truly innovative turnarounds, it's the lower to mid-level employees who become the teachers through a bottom-up conviction that challenges the status quo to reframe challenges into opportunities.
Key to the innovation funnel’s success was employee confidence that leadership valued their user-centered insights and would allocate resources to aid their success. These developments, in turn, helped SearchCo lower operating cost KPIs in the near term while populating a pipeline of viable ideas to sustain and build upon these gains in the medium-to-long term.
SearchCo is one of the most valuable and recognized technological giants in history.