I recently had the good fortune of attending a half-day seminar at Qualcomm Technologies Inc. on building a culture of innovation. At first blush, it might seem that the focus of a technology company would bear no relevance to an advisory practice. But as I listened to the presentations, I realized that many ideas were applicable to our businesses.
What struck me as an essential element of Qualcomm's great success is its multifaceted approach to encouraging innovation. At the core of its culture is a business model that supports risk taking. Their slogan is “What if?” According to the big plaque hanging in Qualcomm headquarters, “At the core of Qualcomm is the idea, and every idea is rooted in a 'what if?' moment. The ability to question and push boundaries is who we are and what we do.”
Great leadership is the key. Without buy-in from the top, the spirit of innovation will be crushed. Leadership is responsible for setting goals and vision — and then encouraging ideas. To encourage this, Qualcomm applies the following principles:
• Innovation is not just for engineers or management.
• Ideas come before ego.
• Allow for “stupid” ideas.
• Allow “field tests” and, if successful, roll out completely.
• Failure is OK.
• Support continuous learning.
• Education is encouraged even in areas outside of core duties.
Qualcomm promotes teamwork, recognizing that a combination of innovators and implementers is necessary to achieve successful results. And, once a team has demonstrated success, it is not broken up. Open communication and socialization is not only accepted, but encouraged — even during the workday. That comfort level within the office and among co-workers allows for creativity and collaboration.
Whether applied to technology, client service processes and/or internal operations, I believe that ongoing innovation is essential to the future survival of advisory practices.
Sheryl Rowling is chief executive of Total Rebalance Expert and principal at Rowling & Associates. She considers herself a non-techie user of technology.