Editor’s Note: For this series on the six Intuit operating values, Intuit leaders were asked to give their point of view on one value and why it is important.
Innovate and Improve
We innovate to drive growth, and continuously improve everything we do. We move with speed and agility, and embrace change. We have the courage to take risks, and grow by learning from our successes and failures.
I’m personally passionate about this value. That passion is rooted in my first job at IBM many, many years back. I joined the IBM T.J Watson Research organization in New York, and on the first day of my job, I asked my boss, “What is it you want me to work on?” and my boss said, “I have no idea, why don’t you figure it out?” So, my first job was one in which 100 percent of my time was unstructured time!
Two years back, the magic words that made me join this amazing company, Intuit, came from Alex Lintner, president of our Global Business Division; Alex said, “Hey, we haven’t really figured out what our road map for the division is yet, come on in and help us figure it out.” Needless to say that I enjoy working on projects where there are no roadmaps or a set of directions. Innovating and constantly improving things is definitely what I’m very passionate about.
One thing I feel very proud about within Intuit is that we have a tremendous respect for our values and live them. This was confirmed in our roundtables with employees that we did to get feedback on the values. Innovation wasn’t explicitly spelled out in our previous 10 values, so we wanted to make sure it was captured. The company has introduced unstructured time and is getting good at running small experiments; we’re starting to do very well in this area to the extent that it is becoming part of our DNA.
We were compelled to add this value because of the focus the company has on being a premier innovative growth company. Every employee in the roundtables we did understood that and wanted it. Also as the pace of technology continues to speed up, we need to be at the forefront of that to stay relevant. We need to invent and lead the technology change, or we’ll fall behind.
The “improve” part came from our previous 10 values – “Continuously improve processes.” The concept of continuous improvement is an important one, but we felt just focusing it on processes was limiting – we should improve everything we do, we should improve ourselves every day we come to work, our products, our processes … it applies to everything we do.
A key part of this value is embracing change. The other key piece was the phrase “successes and failures.” We wanted the word “failure” in there. We had a lot of debate around what word to use. If we were going to say we needed to embrace change, it was important for us to say that when you try new things, there’s a chance it will actually fail. You shouldn’t be afraid of failure.
In the Global Business Division, we have a very strong experimentation culture. About two years back, we started with six resources to run experiments in India. So far we have run 12 experiments, and we have we failed – proudly, I might add – on eight of them. And four of these 12 ideas have shown enough promise to encourage us to go forward and pursue them. We’re developing a culture of running lightweight, quick experiments that help us decide whether to go or not go based on the outcome. Typically, the number of failures is larger than the number of successes, and that’s ok.
Each of our values includes a “two-way” element, defining not only what employees can expect from the company, but what the company expects from employees.
The two-way element for this value spells out that the company is clearly focused on innovation and will provide an environment to encourage it. There’s enough of the right people, the right tools and the rights processes available in the company to make this happen– Scott Cook is the champion for Design for Delight, which teaches about small experiments and rapid failures; In addition, we have unstructured time, idea jams etc.
In turn, as employees, we need to take advantage of those tools. Devote some of your time to think in different ways, whether it’s improving existing products, designing a new product or focusing on commercial innovation – which could be about packaging something differently or pricing it in creative ways in order to gain more share and customers.
Innovation affects us all across the board – it doesn’t matter if you’re in engineering, a product person, marketing or functional group – we all have the opportunity and responsibility to do something new and better.
By Bharath Kadaba, vice president, engineering and operations, Intuit