When you think of the leading executive of a billion-dollar company taking the stage to keynote an event at a technology tradeshow, you immediately picture a well-coifed, suit-bearing, heavily scripted individual taking the mic. But when Yahoo SVP of Communications Platforms Jeff Bonforte (News - Alert) took the stage as the keynoter at ITEXPO’s eighth-annual StartupCamp event tonight in Las Vegas, Nev., he broke traditional stereotypes—sporting comfy jeans and loafers with a Corona beer in hand.
And fittingly, he figuratively and literally demonstrated the fact that innovation comes from everywhere in the business world—most importantly, when you and your business remain true to your passions and core competencies.
Before four eager startup companies took to the stage following Bonforte to give their five-minute pitch to a panel of judges as to why they should be voted the next big tech company to watch, the SVP lent his best tips and tricks for fostering innovation amongst businesses of all sizes:
Find Innovation Everywhere
Innovation comes from all parts of your world, according to Bonforte, but very oftentimes we are so set on claiming ownership over an idea that we hamper the potential for the innovation.
“I fancy myself a great product manager… Mr. Creativity if you will,” he admitted. “But if I take a look back at all the things I have mentally taken credit for, I realize that they weren’t my ideas. In fact, nine out of 10 ideas I pick up from other employees.”
Ideas tend to percolate, the keynoter reminded, stressing that as you embrace ideas from other team members and those that originate from unexpected situations, your team will feel stronger ownership over new innovations and your company will innovate better.
Flatten Your Organization
In a world in which corporate hierarchies and job descriptions dominate the workplace and affect business decisions, Bonforte argues that you should abandon such structure and “flatten your organization.” Specifically, be cognizant of the fact that if your current employees only receive salary increases when they change job titles, then don’t be surprised when you realize that innovation has been stifled.
If you take this approach then “people will go to bed dreaming about becoming a manager instead of a doer,” Bonforte explains.
Hone the Inner Craftsman
Aside from flattening your organization, Bonforte suggests remembering that everyone on your team and at your company is first and foremost a craftsman—an individual that has a specific trade and talent that needs to be honed and considered. From fledgling startup companies to decades-old large enterprises, companies ought to make sure that every day each employee is doing 20 to 30 percent of his or her craft. In other words, get these members to step away from the PowerPoint presentations and Excel spreadsheets long enough to be able to fuel creativity in the organization.
“People who say they have gotten away from their craft make me nervous” Bonforte said, eliciting laughter. “It’s not good; it limits their career and your organization.”
Think Macro not Micro
Especially at the larger enterprise level, it is common to only see the world in macro numbers and big data. And that’s because when you become a big company it feels good to be able to look at macro numbers and make assessments based on them. But you are lying to yourself if you think that is really true, the Yahoo SVP explained.
Instead, split your focus, spending 50 percent of your time looking at the micro numbers and the other half examining macro numbers.
While so many companies are afraid of failure—particularly startups—businesses of all sizes ought to embrace the concept of failure as it’s from those shortcomings that you can quickly “beat your competitors to learning,” according to Bonforte. In fact, while so many companies embrace split A/B testing (or trying two different campaigns to see which is most successful), Yahoo relies on a strategy in which it can test 25 to 100 ideas at the same time. Adopt a similar approach, urges Bonforte, so that you can “fail quickly and let the system tell you what is working and what is not working.”
“It’s okay to fail,” Bonforte reminded. “It’s a very hard concept to embrace, and if you are like me it took me weeks and months to digest this.”
Be sure to stay tuned to the ITEXPO (News - Alert) 2013 news page for more information about StartupCamp8, including accounts of the four startups who presented during the Tuesday night event.
Edited by Rachel Ramsey