A recent Wall Street Journal story spotlighted the growing niche for toasters that not only brown a bagel or slice of bread, but do a whole lot more. There are toasters that also poach eggs, allow you to griddle pancakes or have a coffee maker attached to the side. Still others offer a warming tray to heat up precooked meals. Then there are combination toasters that include a TV or radio so you can be entertained while waiting for your breakfast.
But this column isn’t about toasters; it’s about people, because business innovation depends upon good people with a creative spirit and an entrepreneurial mind.
Nowhere is this more evident than in biotechnology, an industry where America dominates the world. And few companies dominate American biotechnology more than Amgen, No. 212 on last year’s Fortune 500 with 2004 revenue of more than $10.5 billion.
This month I heard Amgen chairman and CEO Kevin Sharer speak to a group of business executives and alumni at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. What Sharer had to say about innovation is worth repeating.
People, he said, are one of the critical drivers of innovation. "There is no substitute for the best people," Sharer said, "and there is no system that will replace the best people." If you have the best people, he noted, they can figure out the answers to just about any critical business problem you might toss their way.
Sharer listed his (and Amgen’s) top 10 requirements for innovation in biotechnology, but the list could be applied to most companies in just about any field. Notice all the points that touch on people:
1. Have the best possible research-and-development leadership.
2. Foster an open, risk-hungry environment that tolerates dissent and rewards the right results and behaviors.
3. Get the best people. This is not a one-time event and it doesn’t mean you need to assemble an all-star team, but the best possible people who can work together in a supportive, team-oriented environment.
4. Make large, sustained and smart investments.
5. Have a willingness to look outside for new ideas and products, and to place big bets on them. You must be willing to roll the dice, but understand that projects sometimes fail.
6. Develop close, cross-functional collaboration across the company.
7. Be nimble. Develop the ability to recognize that something has changed before others do, as well as the ability to change quickly yourself.
8. Get access to a broad range of technologies. Have the necessary skills to employ them.
9. Focus on all the key players in your space (for biotech, this means patients, physicians, providers and payers).
10. Foster a decision-making process that is rigorous, decisive, participatory, transparent, timely and effective.
Sharer made one other observation that is worth repeating: "In success are seeds of failure in the future." He noted that when you have a degree of success in business that you tend to get careful, more bureaucratic and less decisive. Sharer says that you also become less candid in your communications.
Today’s innovation is tomorrow’s success, whether it be at Apple, Amgen or eBay. It takes strong leadership and good people to make it work.
"Innovation doesn’t happen by accident," Sharer said, and this is true whether you are working to develop anything from a new drug to a new toaster. "Support from the top is a necessity."
Workforce Management, February 27, 2006, p. 50 -- Subscribe Now!