Establishing an environment that is perfect for inspiring successful innovation can sometimes feel like something akin to chasing a rainbow. Innovation itself is a notoriously slippery concept, and a process that is unique to every organization, so it is extraordinarily difficult to know when you have an environment that is maximizing it's impact. And it hardly helps that there is so much advice out there, some of it contradictory and plenty of it entirely unhelpful.
So what truly makes an environment in which innovation can thrive? We spoke with Raj Bhandari, Director of Innovation - Corporate Venture Capital and Partnerships at Anheuser-Busch to get his thoughts.
Raj Bhandari is the site director of the "Beer Garage", which is AB InBev's Silicon Valley office for Innovation. There his team immerse themselves in an environment specifically crafted to optimize innovation, focusing on supply chain, sales, and sustainability innovation through partnerships with the investment and startup community.
As you work in an office that’s specifically focused around innovation do you think establishing a central innovation team is the best approach or is it better to encourage a culture of innovation throughout the company?
In my experience central innovation is key. Progress in innovation requires such different ingredients - serendipity for customer development, razor focus on customer delight over scalability, vision before plans - that traditional frameworks are not great at nurturing.
Why it is important to have fun in innovation and what do you do to integrate this into the process?
Haha! People getting along + small teams + working on Innovation = fun. My philosophy is if people have a good work environment, they’ll do the fun activities together on their own time.
How important is it to have a diverse team working in innovation?
Diversity is a must for creativity. Two minds are better than one. Two cultures are also better than one. The intersection of existing paradigms is where the new exciting stuff lies.
Are companies having to innovate faster than they have had to before? If so, what tools are helping them do this?
The rate of change has definitely accelerated on the back of globalization. The most important tool for a company looking to move as fast as the market is being able to create independent small teams.
How do you prepare for disruption?
Disruption can be thought of as a movement of the foundation your business model is built on - whether it’s your cost structure or distribution. Only way to be ready is to have builders really good at re-building a foundation, that is innovators, ready to reframe your business model.
How is the nature of innovation and organizations' approaches to it set to evolve over the next five years?
Successful case studies will drive investment to the most productive models. Evidence-based decision making is only able to take off when there’s enough evidence. And I think we are approaching that critical mass, at least evidence in the new globalized business environment. And I think initial findings are showing the most successful innovation approaches have a mission - either revenue, cost savings or talent acquisition, but after that they are empowered to fly as far as the mothership as necessary.
Hear Raj Bhandari's presentation '7 Ways To Make Corporate Innovation A Lot Less Hard And A Lot More Fun' at our Chief Innovation Officer summit, May 7 & 8 in San Francisco.