“The Next Steve Jobs Won’t Save Your Company – But his Boss Might”

By IESE 5 years ago

“Innovation in large organizations can be messy at the best of times. That’s why we need our leaders to be innovation architects and to create an ecosystem that generates innovation.”

This was the advice from IESE Prof. Paddy Miller at an Alumni and Friends session in Tokyo this month.

“Steve Jobs might be the innovation pin-up, but if you’re a large organization, the next Steve Jobs won’t save your company,” he warned.

“The next Nolan Bushnell and Al Alcorn – Steve Job’s first bosses at Atari – are the innovation architects you should be looking for – or creating.”

To share insight into how to set about doing so, Miller presented findings from his latest business case study: “Innovation architect: the case of Recruit.” He was joined by Fumihiro Yamaguchi, CEO of Recruit Marketing Partners, and Ayano Senaha, executive manager of global talent management at Recruit Holdings in a panel moderated by Hiromi Inami, of Forbes Japan.

“Recruit Holdings has grown to be one of the most innovative organizations in Japan,” said Inami.

“And part of this success is down to creating an ecosystem that ensures its values and culture remain intact throughout its many acquisitions around the globe.”

That, and an ecosystem that fosters innovation architects from the ground up.

The Innovation Architect Model

“There are six key elements in the innovation architect model: focus, connect, tweak, select, stealth-storm, and persist,” said Miller.

At Recruit, Miller found that successful leaders connect well with their team, internally and externally. And that they also have the ability to build strong networks and lead with integrity. In short, he found that they “always deliver.”

Miller shared how Recruit encourages internal startups through a series of practices; practices which build an ecosystem where every single employee embraces a strong sense of ownership and entrepreneurial spirit.”

A Bottom-up Approach to Innovation

Yamaguchi says that this bottom-up approach stems from the company’s mission to contribute to society.

“Every employee is encouraged to think about how to improve society.”

Yamaguchi says it was the gap in access to education services in regional households in Japan that inspired him to innovate.

“After watching a video on YouTube, I realized that the best way to distribute educational contents is online.”

Recruit runs an in-house free-form ideas competition, New RING, aimed at the creation of new value. Yamaguchi submitted his thoughts on online education and Study Sapuri was launched with Recruit resources.

“The six elements of innovation architect were fundamental in the launching of Study Sapuri,” says Yamaguchi. Today there are hundreds of external collaborators involved.

“Recruit recognized the project’s potential to contribute to society – and that it could grow into a billion-dollar venture in the future.”

But in innovation is not all about immediate success, he says. “Trial, error and learning from mistakes all come into play.”

Failure – Part of the Process

“In Recruit people – in particular top management – understand that if you want to achieve something you have to challenge the status quo,” said Senaha. “And part of the process is failure. We have built internal training programs where we share our failure stories so that everyone in the company can discuss how they would have tackled the issue in an environment that fosters creativity and solutions at all levels.”

Contributing to society through an innovation culture is core to Recruit’s global success, said Miller. “And to achieve this, Recruit is taking care of its most important stakeholder – its employees – by allowing each employee to find their own path inside or outside the company.” 

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