Rakathons and beyond! Steps to innovation

From every corner of the business world we hear it: Innovate or die!

Innovation is the driving force of business today. No longer is it sufficient to provide a good product or service. As business people, we must continuously push ourselves to do better. What can we do to improve? To disrupt old and tired ways of doing business? To better the lives of our customers? These are the big goals of business today and they are fueled by innovation.

How, then, do you take the mandate for innovation and put it into practice? I’ve come to believe that the road to great innovation is both professional and personal. It’s a process that requires businesses to act a certain way as well as individuals to set their own innovation process.

What can you do?

Rakathon Builds Synergy at Rakuten Crimson House West
Presenters at the Rakathon recently held at Rakuten’s San Mateo office

In your company: Look for ways to bring people together for the purpose of innovation. If you want this to happen, you need to create the systems and structures that will support innovative thinking and innovative behavior. For example, at Rakuten we’ve started to hold more regular hackathons (we call them Rakathons!) This process of gathering together and working in teams in a timed competition is familiar to those in the tech world. We recently held one in our San Mateo offices. The winning team was made up of engineers and developers from different Rakuten companies who had never worked together before. We have also held Rakathons at our headquarters in Tokyo – with equally exciting results. It’s an excellent example of how innovation can happen when a company provides the right framework for employees.

In yourself: A supportive corporate structure is important but it’s not the only ingredient to great innovation. Any of us can be creative if we train our minds to look in new directions. I like to describe my own thinking process as an ongoing game of catch between the left and right sides of my brain. It is a mental combination of instinct and critical thinking, and I make a conscious effort to have that “catch” process in motion whenever I can. So I may come up with an instinctive idea such as: If we gave people a discount, more might sign up for a product. Then, the critical thinking part of my brain starts to test that: How much of a discount? For how long? How many more sales could we expect? These two mental states toss the idea back and forth until an innovative idea emerges.

Innovation cannot be forced, but it can be fostered. When we make the efforts to do this, in ourselves and in our companies, the results are astounding. Innovation is just below the surface, waiting for the right conditions to emerge and succeed.


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