Four Ways to Make Innovation Flourish

Intuit CEO Brad Smith breaks down the principles that keep new ideas flowing at the 30-year old software maker (see story below in blog).

1. Get people to fall in love with problems, not solutions.  Leadership’s job is to focus people on a grand challenge.  It took 20 years for QuickBooks to get 5 million small-business customers.  Smith recently challenged the QuickBooks team to double that in 3 years.

2.  Set up an environment where people can test their ideas quickly and cheaply.  Intuit gives employees 10% of their hours as unstructured time.  The legal department created a tool kit that lets product managers talk to legal.  The IT department accelerated the time it took to set up test environments for new Web products from two months to two hours.

3. Share the lessons of failures in the most public forum possible.  In an all-hands meeting in August Scott Cook (founder and former CEO) told the story of how he rejected the idea a few managers had to make a retail checkout product combining hardware and software.  Cook said, no, we’re a software firm.  They didn’t listen, and it’s now a $100 million business.

4.  Leaders live by the same rules as everyone else.  When Smith became CEO in 2008 he pushed for anew technology to connect QuickBooks to app developers.  It cost $70 million and took three years and failed.  A rival team of two engineers built its replacement in only several months.  Every decision he has made since has gone through hypothesis testing.