The Innovative Company of the Future

by Chris Dolan

The Innovative Company of the FutureTwo weeks ago, I attended the PDMA 2010 Global Conference, where innovators gathered and traded tips on the latest in innovation business practices. Several themes consistently emerged from the various presentations – shift to open source ideation, the importance of engaging the customer, and a shift toward business model innovation, to name a few. Reflecting on the conference, I got to thinking about the business trends that seem to be unfolding. Innovation is happening not just in product development, but in how businesses are run. What does the company of the future look like? Here are 10 predictions for 2020. Some of these developments are already happening on a large scale, others are more esoteric. Although stemming from things I have read or heard, these predictions are admittedly (un)educated guesses. If any of these predictions came to fruition, they would undoubtedly bring with them new set of challenges, but I believe that in each case, the opportunity far outweighs the complications.

1. The Great Office in the Cloud

Virtual Offices Will be the Standard

One of the most obvious trends emerging is that of the virtual office. Technologies like Wi-Fi, cloud computing, and virtual conferencing are making working remotely more effective and practical than ever before. One of the presenters at DPMA, Imeet, made a compelling case for why their product might even expand beyond the office to other traditionally face to face interactions like doctor’s appointments. As these technologies improve and employees continue to seek benefits like working from home, the question is going to shift from “what tools can we use for the occasional times when people are not in the office?” to “why do we even need a physical office at all?”

2. Secrets, Secrets Are No Fun

Open Source…Everything

Open source collaboration is another trend that is taking off, thanks in large part to the proliferation of web 2.0 software. Enabling everyone on a project to be able to see the latest version and keep tabs on what the rest of the team is doing boosts efficiency and cooperation. But why stop at the project management level? In order to truly break down organizational silos (a common barrier to innovation in larger organizations) companies should look to provide as much access and transparency as possible in all facets of the organization. But hey, why even stop there? Everyone engaging the voice of the customer early in the development process, why not open the ideation phase up to customers as well? In the future, customers will design the product. Now that’s early engagement!

3. CEO is dead.

The End of Management as We Know It

In his PDMA keynote on motivation, Dan Pink points out that “management” is not a divine institution that has been around forever, it is merely a technology invented by some guy in the 1850’s designed to get compliance. Compliance was effective when the goal was to mobilize an army of employees to assemble machinery. It is far less effective at empowering innovators to create, select, and execute new ideas.

The hierarchical organizational management structure may have outlived its effectiveness. So what alternative does the future hold?….

4. The League of Extraordinary Intrapreneurs

Horizontal Project Management Structure

Instead of an organizational chart that shows who works under whom, imagine a “skills chart” that detailed the unique interests and abilities of each person in the company and showed where they intersected. Imagine further that every employee in the company was empowered to come up with and work on new ideas. Anyone who had an idea could look at the passion/skills chart and assemble a cross functional dream team for implementing the idea. The team would designate a project champion, who served as the ultimate decision maker on the project. Essentially, the entire enterprise would run as a network of entrepreneurs.

5. Extinct Species: Stage Gate Stegosaurus

Stage Gate Approach Will be Replaced by More Adaptive Process

It is often said that one of the main differences between Millenials and other generations is the amount of feedback they expect. Boomers are traditionally viewed as being content with an annual performance review, while Millenials are typically viewed as needy, sensitive pests who want to know “how’d I do?” after every meeting. Although this is problematic when taken to the extreme, regularly reevaluating how things are going is a beneficial approach. Instead of hitting a check point then moving on, companies are moving towards a “corkscrew” model to loop back, reassess efforts, and resolve new issues as they arrive. This more adaptive approach will feature feedback and tweaking of the component parts frequently enough to satisfy even the most demanding Millenial.

6. Do Not Disturb

Establishing Radio Silence

This one is counterintuitive. As laptops, blackberries, Iphones, and Ipads become increasingly relied on in the workplace one would expect that the future will hold more of the same, especially given the virtual office trend. My prediction is that these devices are actually used less. More and more we are learning from neuroscience that multi-tasking with these devices inhibits our ability to focus on a task and think creatively. Nothing interrupts a stream of thought as easily as the chirp, vibration, or blinking light of a mobile device. Companies and workers will be more aware of this and will make a concerted effort to designate chunks of time in which employees can be reachable by mobile device. I could even envision companies “interruption proofing” certain meeting rooms by purposely disabling wireless access.

7. Now is not good. How about 3:00 am Saturday?

More Freedom and Flexibility in Work Schedules

The concept of punching the clock from 9-5 will go out the window. Given the virtual nature of the office, and constant access to one another (except during radio silence times, of course) it is no longer necessary to be sitting at a desk for the same specified hours every day. All employees will be free to work around their own schedule. This will blur the line between work time and personal time. Communication will happen 24/7 with no sanctimony over weekends off. The flip side is that employees will be able to determine when they are on personal time. While project updates on a Saturday will be more common, responses such as “can’t respond now, at the Yankees game” will also be acceptable.

8. Let’s Do Lunges

Exercise Breaks Will Be As Important as Lunch Breaks

Science is increasingly demonstrating the link between exercise and cognitive performance. At the same time, companies are becoming more and more concerned with employee health in an effort to keep job satisfaction and productivity up, while keeping insurance costs down. The result is that in the future, it will be not only acceptable, but standard practice to put on the calendar “exercise 10:00-11:00” and expect coworkers to schedule around it.

Those archaic companies that do have physical offices will have gym facilities on premises. Those that don’t, will provide gym memberships as part of their employment benefits and will schedule meetings and conferences at facilities equipped with gyms. For an all day meeting, exercise time will be scheduled in the same way coffee and bio breaks are currently. Some entire meetings will even be conducted on exercise bikes.

9. Work 20% Time, 80% of the Time

The Rise of Passion Projects

Dan Pink, one of the speakers at the PDMA conference quoted a Google engineer who said that practically every good idea Google has ever had came out of 20 percent time. We all know that our best ideas do not come to us when we are sitting at our desk hammering away, but when we are in the shower, out for a walk, or having a leisurely brunch. These seemingly random times all have one major feature in common: they happen when we are not focused on the day-to-day demands of our job. Furthermore, it is not surprising that so many 20 percent time ideas get implemented at Google. The employees are highly motivated to execute projects they are passionate about. As many of the other predictions suggest, I believe companies will encourage employees to devote as much of their time as is possible to working on what they are interested in, while still keep the day-to-day operations of the company afloat.

10. $aving the World, One Sale at a Time

Working Toward a Higher Purpose

Another major theme of the PDMA conference was the focus on doing social good. Yes, companies exist to make money and that is unlikely to change any time soon. However, the fact is that people are far more motivated when they feel that they are contributing to a greater good beyond the profit motive. In his keynote address, Derek Yach talked about Pepsico’s transition to company focused on nutrition and health. He believes that through innovation companies can cause social change. As he said, innovation can solve the world’s biggest social problems…and do it profitably. In the future, companies will realize that making a profit and improving society are not mutually exclusive aims. The key to this future is innovation.

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Chris DolanChris Dolan is a Business Innovationist at Creative Realities, Inc. the innovation management collaborative. You can follow him on Twitter @theChrisDolan.

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  1. Good write up, truly agree, traditionally working style is just dun work anymore. Governed by policy will just pull away all the creativity that the world had.

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