Your Guide to Innovating Like Amazon: Focus on Inspiring People

It won't be as easy as 1-Click, but doing these three things can help you build an Amazon-worthy culture of innovation.

Innovation is imperative for long-term success, but most companies struggle to maintain an innovative approach over the long haul.

Innovation ultimately is driven by the individual people inside the organization, and it requires personal investment. If you want your company to be innovative, you have to engage employees and customers in a partnership of innovation that they are invested in, too.

There are many ways to build a culture that gives employees ownership in the company’s success and ties innovation to personal success. From rooting out fear of mistakes to providing dedicated time for idea sharing, the key is to find ways to value and leverage individual creativity from all levels of the organization.

How to Build an Innovative Mindset That Lasts

What does this look like in action? Amazon CEO and Founder Jeff Bezos neatly sums up where the company’s innovative teams draw daily inspiration. “Our customers are loyal to us right up until the second somebody offers a better service,” he says. “And I love that. It’s super-motivating for us.” Proving his point, Amazon recently unveiled one such better service–the new Amazon Go convenience store, which allows shoppers to walk in, grab whatever they want, and walk out without having to deal with a line or cashier.

Combining technology with real customer pain points is helping Amazon reshape traditional shopping into a better experience. If you want to sustain long-term innovation like Amazon does, take these three steps:

1. Build a Failure-Tolerant Culture

This seems counterintuitive, but to succeed you must fail many times. Amazon embraces risk in its efforts to discover what customers want next. Bezos views experiments as important, but notes any experiment can fail. With Bezos at the helm, Amazon has not shied away from experimenting and recognizes that a couple of successful experiments can pay for the other dozen that don’t pan out.

Giving employees time and permission to experiment can help a company stay innovative, but you have to start by eliminating the fear of failure. Like Amazon, you need to celebrate failures as a necessary component of success–just make sure you learn and move on from them.

The Apple III computer is a great example of this approach. Every single unit sold required repairs, but Apple kept fixing them until it created a better computer. Google Plus and Wave haven’t come close to beating Facebook and Twitter, and Microsoft’s Zune was eclipsed by the iPod. Did these companies stop trying new things because some of their products failed? No, and neither should you.

2. Be Selective With Your Technology Investments

When it comes to technology, Amazon has developed strengths in cloud computing, machine learning, and voice control. The technology that allows its convenience store customers to skip the checkout line builds on those strengths and is one of several tech platforms Amazon has created that could be sold for other businesses to use as well.

Yet blindly investing in all the latest and greatest technologies adds stress and confusion to an organization. Focus instead on emerging technologies that help your employees do their jobs better or enhance the user experience, like those underlying Amazon Go. Make sure the technology you invest in is in line with your overall goals.

K.R. Sanjiv, chief technology officer of Wipro Limited, says you should start by looking at existing processes and evaluate them for areas that need improvement or would benefit from change, then seek the best solution. He explains, “In order to succeed, it’s imperative to avoid the tendency to force-fit new innovations on a point-solution approach without considering the larger picture.”

3. Cultivate an Innovative Ecosystem

People who want to become better cooks find chefs to follow for inspiration. If you want to be more innovative, your company needs to find people who inspire creativity and promote a startup mentality. Amazon often boasts about its emphasis on innovation, and the company has stayed connected to an entrepreneurial ecosystem. Through Amazon Launchpad, which helps startups sell products through the company’s marketplace, Amazon works with accelerators, incubators, and investors to provide entrepreneurs with resources and expertise.

Regularly bringing together entrepreneurial-minded employees within your company to share ideas or ruminate on problems is something you can, and should, start doing now. To keep innovation at the forefront for your employees, follow Amazon’s lead and start mingling with budding entrepreneurs through a partnership with university, incubator, or accelerator programs.

Dan Lauer, founding executive director of UMSL Accelerateputs it this way: “Entrepreneurship is not a trend; it’s the new way of being.” He says every businessperson can benefit from an entrepreneurial approach, not just people who start their own companies. It’s important to understand how to scale, problem solve, and think innovatively, which is what programs like UMSL’s teach.

Innovative organizations are filled with innovative people who constantly strive to improve processes, products, and interactions. Engaging employees and clearly defining your organization’s goals will lead to breakthroughs that complacency won’t.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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