Editor’s note: Rohini Venkatraman is a rotational development associate supporting Intuit’s partner solutions team. She provided this first-hand account of chief executive officer Brad Smith’s talk at the Stanford Breakfast briefing.
Question everything. This is the single most meaningful piece of advice CEO Brad Smith received as he came in to his role in 2008. Under Brad’s leadership, Intuit has accelerated its shift from the desktop to a connected services world. But Brad takes little credit for this transformation. “Innovation is a team sport,” he insisted. During his talk, Brad shared three steps to leading innovation and growth in a changing world.
Create a vision: The first step in leading innovation is to create a vision your company can rally behind. No matter how big the vision, keep the message simple. He summed up the vision for Intuit’s foray into the connected services world in just three words: Social. Mobile. Global.
“You have to become a poet,” Brad only semi-joked. “A vision is something that is so clear that a leader has nothing to do but get out of the way.”
Foster innovation: After setting a vision, the leader must foster a culture where innovation can thrive. At Intuit, this includes principles such as rapid experimentation and celebrating failure. This means taking scrappy prototypes out to customers and embracing their reactions – even if it’s not what was expected.
Establishing processes to empower innovators can spark ideas from anywhere. Intuit encourages employees to spend up to 10 percent of their time working on novel and innovative projects in a program called unstructured time.
Place bets: With a clear vision and culture of innovation in place, the next challenge is to know whether to place bets on today or tomorrow. For Brad, the answer is easy. “You place bets on both.”
Intuit does this through horizon planning, corporate lingo for making sure the right people are in place to support its three stages of product evolution – products that accelerate the core business (Horizon 1), emerging offerings (Horizon 2) and viable options (Horizon 3). All three are important to Intuit’s growth, and as the company has learned over the years, you should never borrow resources from one horizon to cover another.
As an Intuit employee, I spend a majority of my time innovating. From workshops on how to effectively innovate to running rapid experiments with my team to projects outside my day job, I’m fully committed to the innovation and growth that Brad discussed at the breakfast. Brad showed me that how a leader inspires innovation is just as important as the innovation itself.
Without Brad’s clear vision of the environment he has fostered, my ability to innovate within the company would diminish. In Silicon Valley, we’re constantly hearing about up-and-coming innovations. Hidden behind the curtain are tried and true techniques for leading this innovation, especially at bigger companies like Intuit.
Brad’s techniques – setting a clear vision, fostering a culture of innovation, and placing bets on today and tomorrow – provide a powerful framework for leaders. Under his leadership, Intuit has witnessed a growing innovation pipeline and has risen to No. 19 on Fortune magazine’s “Best Companies to Work For” list in 2012 – the highest ever for Intuit.