How to live innovation

Arne Sorenson
President and Chief Executive Officer, Marriott International Inc.
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Innovation. We all want it. We all encourage it. But it’s not always clear how to foster it, especially within well-established companies.

Some hard truths*: 50-80 percent of new ideas fail. Most new ideas come from entrepreneurs, not big companies. So should companies like mine, perhaps, stay in our own well-established lane?

Absolutely not. Some other truths about innovation: Businesses with innovation at their core are more profitable. They also attract the best talent in the industry.

Innovation is not simply about hoping for a bolt of inspiration. It is the result of deliberate, applied curiosity.

This week, leaders in my company gathered in Miami to explore the DNA of innovation. Fahrenheit 212, an innovation consulting firm (*that shared the above statistics), led us on a day-long tour that was equal parts “Amazing Race” and “Shark Tank.”

We explored different venues around Miami – a sushi gastropub, a gourmet food truck, a custom eye wear boutique, a Madrid-based handmade jewelry brand and even hotels we compete with. It was a live exploration of innovation in one of the most dynamic markets in the world.

We saw up close and alive how inspiration can profoundly impact a business. The experience confirmed much of what I’ve witnessed about successful innovation at my own company – ideas come from those who feel empowered. And, anyone can learn to innovate.

Regardless of their title or where they sit on an organizational chart, innovators need to feel empowered to force their companies out of their (often well-established) comfort zones.

At Pubbelly Sushi, we talked with employees who said they felt their business was a community. They eat meals together, socialize and – because of that — feel they have equal say in new ideas and encouragement to raise their hands. They also share tips among the team.

Listening to the advice of Fahrenheit 212, taking in the experiences of our tour through Miami and talking together as a team, gives rise to a few reminders (at least to me) of tools for innovation.

  1. Communicate broad permission to the team to innovate. Innovation depends on participation across the company.
  2. Be deliberate about innovating. Innovation is not simply about hoping for a bolt of inspiration. It is the result of deliberate, applied curiosity.
  3. Expand the number and range of experiments. If we could have all of our 4,200 hotels experimenting with something, think about the size of the living lab.
  4. Kill the failures
  5. Identify and elevate the successes. Celebrate the results that are worth celebrating.

This article is published in collaboration with LinkedIn. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Arne Sorenson is President and CEO at Marriott International

Image: A couple walk past “Filament Lamp”, an art work installation, at a commercial center near a construction site in Beijing’s Sanlitun area. REUTERS/Jason Lee 

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