Lab Notes
Innovation Q&A GoKart Labs

Building a culture of innovation: Q&A with Don Smithmier, A.J. Meyer, and Jim Cuene

As the culture of innovation powers forward across the globe, there’s good reason to be looking over your shoulder. Whatever you do, whatever your idea, chances are someone in a proverbial garage is likely trying to do it better. Of course, execution is everything.

So when it comes to moving your team toward actual innovation, whether it be product innovation, marketing innovation, you name it… we asked a few guys who have lived it in big companies and startups to weigh in.

Here’s what Don Smithmier (Co-Founder), A.J. Meyer (Co-Founder), and Jim Cuene (V.P. of Marketing Strategy) had to say.

“What are some first steps companies can take to start assessing innovation readiness?”

Don: The essential first step is for the company’s leadership to do a brutally honest self-assessment. Does the organization really invest in and protect innovation? Or is it clear to all parties that what the company truly values is whatever delivers earnings this quarter?

We all have to hit the bottom line, but expecting innovation that is immediately accretive to earnings is a non-starter. If the honest answer is that innovation isn’t part of the culture, then it has to be built. Step 2 is gaining alignment around that need to build, then charting a course forward.

Jim: When looking at the overall operating objectives of the company, if there’s a disproportionate emphasis on new growth, that’s good. If there’s a disproportionate emphasis on operational efficiency, or short-term business results at the expense of long-term innovative progress, that’s a risk to your org’s ability to innovate.

Second, look at external, industry forces. Is the industry changing rapidly? Is there threat of imminent disruption from a new entrant? In other words, is there compelling external pressure to move quickly towards innovation?

What are some key cultural questions companies need to answer to start bringing new thinking, new products, and new revenue channels to life? 

A.J.: Are you fearless in your exploration of new ideas? Have you empowered your team to fully ‘own’ innovation?

Are you willing to embrace failure and use what you learn to keep pushing forward? Have you adopted a formal process for innovation? That’s a big one. Also, are you willing to disrupt your own business model(s)?

Jim: Is curiosity a respected trait in your culture? If yes, you’re probably ready. It’s not a common trait, though. Unless you’re in a naturally creative industry. Most cultures are focused on managing downside risk, maximizing the efficiency of all resources, and optimizing. From what I’ve seen, those traits tend to work against an open, curious, creative culture.

Companies that are more autocratic and hierarchical, more traditional focused and conservative tend to be less ready for true innovation. Same thing for consensus-based organizations (where all decisions need to be agreed to by everybody). Sounds kind of obvious, but it’s important to acknowledge it if its in the culture.

“What kinds of innovation can GoKart help with?”

Don: As an innovation lab, GoKart Labs requires innovation in every role and at every level. Our clients come to us for marketing innovation (how do we better promote a great product?), for product innovation (how do we make this better for the user?), for sustaining innovation (how do we keep this brand and business model relevant?), and for disruptive innovation (how do we re-invent ourselves before someone else forces us to?).

Have other questions or comments? Please join in the discussion.

At GoKart Labs, we specialize in Invention & Business Strategy, User Experience & Design, Web & Mobile Software Development, and Digital Marketing. To find out more about becoming a client, call 612.454.4012.

Paul writes about modern marketing practices for today's fragmented digital world.

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