Hal Gregersen on the World’s Most Innovative Companies

INSEAD professor Hal Gregersen provides advice to top managers who want to encourage innovation in their companies (INSEAD, 10:26).

How can top managers encourage sustainable and widespread innovation in their organizations? Hal Gregersen, professor of innovation and leadership at INSEAD, suggests drawing inspiration from companies known for their ability to innovate. In looking at the list of the 100 most innovative companies (established for three consecutive years in collaboration with Crédit Suisee and Forbes), two companies stand out: salesforce.com and Amazon. These companies owe their innovative spirit to their founders. The personal characteristics of top managers are essential to making companies innovative, but since no one lives forever, how can companies support innovation without just counting on the personalities of top leaders?

1. Surround yourself with innovative people
Gregersen observed that top leaders of innovative companies consider creativity an essential quality in new employees. To boost innovation, he suggests leaders put their egos aside and tolerate the presence of creative people: studies show that 20% of leaders have a hard time being surrounded with colleagues who are equally, if not more creative than them, and reject their ideas to retain control. Over the long term, however, the exclusion of creative individuals severely undermines the organization’s capacity to innovate.

2. Spread innovation to all levels

His research also indicates the importance of considering every employee a potential innovator. For example, innovation is rarely considered part of the sales function. And yet, salespeople are in position to understand the unmet needs of customers and could thus potentially propose high potential innovations. Leaders can use innovative means for supporting organizational innovation. Gregersen cites the example of Rakuten (Japanese online retail giant) whose leaders decided that each of the group’s employees would learn English. They bet that learning a foreign language would enable staff to see their environment from a new perspective, thereby fostering creativity.

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