Multinational corporations are remarkably skilled at building and improving the mechanics of international markets, but are still learning how to untangle those markets’ social norms. GreenHouse – invited by Play Big – worked with global executives from Coca-Cola to dive deep into the shifting norms of juice consumption.
For example, juice is morphing in the minds of consumers from a drink option to an indication of care for one’s family. Using GreenHouse’s innovation methodology, Coca-Cola execs developed preliminary strategies for leveraging and capitalizing on that change.
GreenHouse’s methodology was developed over seven years of innovation projects in the private, public, social and academic sectors, predicated on an original framework, and tested in a variety of corporate settings, including Big Law and the nation’s largest utility.
Large corporations know they must innovative to survive. But they approach the process with much less structure and discipline than they do more routine functions like sales or IT.
With Exelon, the country’s largest energy company, GreenHouse raised the standard for corporate innovation, helping develop a repeatable process for group ideation – which we tested together around the country with groups of corporate executives. The experiment produced new, actionable insights into the role Exelon and other utilities could play in building a better electric grid.
From our final report: “Many experts claim that they can guide companies toward new ideas and ways of implementing them. But such interventions often wither and die after the consultant’s contract ends or the organization’s leadership changes. To truly thrive in today’s world, organizations need sustainable means of innovating that are woven into the culture of the organization itself.”
Our findings informed applications of our original methodology for social innovation in similar tests with executives at Coca-Cola, entrepreneurs at 10.10.10 and doctoral students at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.
Creativity in big corporations will die without the right social norms to sustain it. With design executives from Starbucks, Herman Miller, Johnson & Johnson, and the BBC, we isolated those norms and the structures that keep them healthy and alive.
Together, we identified four models by which corporations successfully nurture and protect creativity. One, for example, requires the corporation to leverage the natural cycle of reinvention and maximization.
From our report: “There are times when the people who are itching to develop a new product or plan must sit back and come up with tactics to harvest the benefits of what has already been built. Similarly, the folks responsible for the next earnings statement or report to the board need to remember that creative types always need some level of stimulus if they are to exercise their brilliance and bring about the next spring.
“Conversation between the maximizers and the reinventors is be made possible by a common understanding of the organization’s place in the natural cycle.”
No big idea – no matter how elegant, inspiring or right – can come to life by itself. Execution of big ideas requires strategy, which has become in recent years such a fuzzy, imprecise terms that most ideas are never animated.
We’ve tried to solve this problem, one that arises over and over again in our collaborations, by simply explaining what strategy is. Howell Malham Jr. wrote and illustrated our first book, I Have a Strategy (No You Don’t): The Illustrated Guide to Strategy, to make it crystal and entertainingly clear for anybody charged with implementing a big idea.
“There are worse crimes than using a word incorrectly, but not many,” Malham writes. “For me, there is nothing more important than understanding the words we use to communicate the thoughts and ideas we have – especially when we’re communicating with each other. It’s how civilization became, well, civilized.”
“One person may say tom-a-to, the other may say tom-ah-to – but woe if one of those people believe tomato means shoehorn. Or worse.”
Incubating innovation within an established institution takes more than sticky notes and a special office. It requires understanding the organization’s social norms and carefully cultivating the right kind of deviance from them.
GreenHouse – invited by Akina – helped AmLaw 100 firm Akerman initiate that process.
Key leaders of Akerman had been part of Law 2023, in which we charted the future of the legal industry. Shortly thereafter, the firm launched the industry’s first R&D Council, with whom GreenHouse and Akina worked to develop new norms and practices.
“This effort will help us better anticipate and react to the rapid changes happening in the market while also serving as a catalyst for breakthrough thinking,” Akerman CEO Andrew Smulian said at the launch. “While the formation of Akerman’s R&D council may be pioneering today, we foresee a time in which research and development departments will be commonplace at law firms in order to adapt to an increasingly complex world.”
Over the past generation, changing social norms have made the white-collar workplace a much more flexible environment. From the introduction of new technologies to the embrace of enlightened HR practices, many corporations realize they will do better if they empower employees to find work-life balance.
But lots of employees don’t work in offices, and many of them face grim realities as they try to balance the responsibilities of work and home. In work with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, we explored this new frontier of workplace flexibility. To find answers, we examined the social norms of jobs where flexibility would seem to be impossible – think forest rangers and psychiatric social workers.
We found that even in these places, some people were making it work – not just for themselves, but secretly for their peers. We dubbed them “stealth managers,” then suggested some ways Sloan might be able to mine their wisdom and bring work-life balance to everybody.
“We realized that the geniuses of flexible workplaces aren’t CEOs, management consultants, or even professors who have spent years studying the issue,” our report read. “Instead, they’re more likely to be front-line managers or shift supervisors.”