Oh, You Knoooow … Just Passion Thru: Four Characteristics of Innovation

Four characteristics define a company’s cultural excellence: collective passion, craftsmanship, “fear no more,” and the right team. But unfortunately, each of these attributes flies a bit below the radar of the typical definition of enterprise excellence.

So how can a company create these concepts if it’s lacking them, or better leverage them of it’s got ’em? Today, we’ll explore strategies behind the first two factors in this equation, collective passion and craftsmanship.

Achieving Collective Passion

In assessing collective passion, the first question is whether or not a company really embraces and internalizes the importance of successful innovation as part of its long-term success. If it doesn’t — that’s big trouble.

The answer, of course, is a long-term view of success, and a thorough understanding of the company’s customers and what value they might ultimately want in the long term. To get to these places, a company must adopt a customer-centric view of the universe.

Beyond that, collective passion is really about whether a company and its employees truly have passion for their customers and their products. Do they understand the customers? Empathize with them? Do they feel good when the customer feels good, and feel bad when the customer feels bad? Competent and smart workers with balanced personalities and good training do these things. These concepts are hard to teach, but again, it’s about putting oneself in someone else’s shoes. It’s about external focus.

To get there, it’s important to hire the right kind of people in the first place — positiveenthusiasticenergetic, and so forth. It’s also essential to stress the importance of the customer, and provide a reward system and internal social system that fosters these feelings.

Let people talk openly about customer successes and failures. Allow them the time to find out for themselves whether customers are having good or bad experiences. Send them on “innovation safaris.” Make each employee feel like every customer is both their friend and their responsibility. Reward them for doing so.

And finally, do away with the dry, dull, corporate-speak in visions, mission statements, and strategic and tactical plans. Make them fun and active. It’s hard to instill passion in a person, but if you create the right environment for it, whether with corporate culture or personal love, great things can happen.

Achieving Craftsmanship

Craftsmanship is like passion, but more specifically directed at the product, and not so much at the customer. The idea is to produce products that not only meet but exceed customer expectations — or, more colloquially, to make the customer say “Wow!”

How you get there, of course, starts with external focus. A company or an individual within the company will craft the best products or customer experiences when he or she can feel that experience personally. When customers say “thank you,” or give compliments about the product or service, you’re there; when they come back (loyalty) or refer others (evangelism), it’s even better.

A culture of craftsmanship comes about when management has a get-it-right mentality — and gives employees the time, resources, and recognition to do it. When employees are treated like entrepreneurs, and they feel that the company is their own personal small business, they’ll naturally deliver a higher standard of quality and take more responsibility for their products. So giving employees the time and empowering them to get things right goes a long way towards craftsmanship.

This topic and more are included in the Vistage Connect™ CEO peer advisory sessions. Learn more.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Next week, Webb will explore the other two innovation factors that define innovation excellence, stay tuned for much more…]

Nicholas J. Webb is a Partner at Lassen Innovation, an innovation and business growth-consulting firm. He is also the author of The Innovation Playbook and The Digital Innovation Playbook. Visit his website at

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