Success stories abound of wildly creative, ambitious executives boldly leading their enterprises into uncharted territory, emerging as vibrant, thriving organizations. But will these companies continue such progressive growth without their visionaries at the helm? Most probably won’t, predict innovation strategy experts Jeff Dyer and Hal Gregersen, co-authors, along with Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen, of “The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators.” Innovation driven by one, they say, simply isn’t sustainable.
Expanding on their research-rich theory in The Secret to Unleashing Genius, the feature article accompanying Forbes’ third annual “Most Innovative Companies” list in the Sept. 2 print issue, Dyer and Gregersen explain, “Companies suffer when the boss comes up with all the new ideas. Shrewd leaders build organizations that think for themselves.” For Salesforce.com and Amazon.com – respectively #1 and #7 on the 2013 list, the only two companies ranked in the top 10 every year since 2005 – the culture of innovation means everything.
As Salesforce founder Marc Benioff put it, “I can’t do it all. I don’t have all the ideas. That isn’t my job.” His job, he says, is to build an organization that encourages innovation, values it, compensates for it and requires it. In fact, he’ll “take innovation any way you can give it to us.” Similarly, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has made innovation part of everyone’s job. While other big companies have appointed a chief innovation officer, Amazon has purposefully chosen not to. Instead, he encourages all employees to “go down blind alleys and experiment.”
Benioff and Bezos foster and guide the collective genius of their organizations – and clearly it’s a strategy that works. Only time will tell whether each innovator’s DNA is embedded deeply enough to survive should either leader leave. After all, “Business leaders can never know how strong their company’s ability will remain to bring new ideas to market after they’re gone,” admit Gregersen and Dyer. “Until then the world’s best-run companies, including Salesforce and Amazon, will continue to hone their skills at observing, experimenting and questioning the status quo.”
Created by Dyer and Gregersen – using metrics developed in collaboration with HOLT (a division of Credit Suisse), the annual Forbes’ list identifies the 100 organizations from around the world with the highest innovation premium, or the proportion of a company’s market value that cannot be accounted for from the net present value of cash flows of its current products in its current markets.