THE BLOG

How to Develop a Culture of Innovation

03/28/2014 06:15 pm ET | Updated May 28, 2014

In today's world, companies can no longer rely solely on brand loyalty to sell products and services. Today, with sophisticated consumers bombarded by a myriad of choices and informed by social media and other digital platforms, business success requires extreme innovation.

Innovation doesn't happen just by luck or chance. It takes work. To that end, business leaders must create a passionate culture of innovation that provides employees with the necessary tools to develop concrete plans and measurable results.

Ideas Are the Most Powerful Tools in Business

As a business leader, you are responsible for creating a culture that continually generates ideas and inspires innovation: Build the right team, encourage your employees to recognize and seize opportunities, avoid complacency and demonstrate confidence in their follow-through.

When I was at NASCAR,management teams were able to detect trends, both up and down, through bi-weekly financial and progress review sessions. They could react quickly to change.

Through this process at NASCAR, we discovered unmet needs in the marketplace. Rather than continuing to operate within the existing status quo, we executed a fundamental sea change, transforming the business from a regional sports platform into a national sport. The transformation was validated when 100 of the Fortune 500 companies invested in the sport with billions of sponsorship dollars that were invested in media and sponsorship rights. NASCAR became the #1 in spectator attendance and #2 in television viewership.

Innovation Can Be Simple

Sometimes, being innovative is not about doing something enormous. Many of the greatest innovations lie in simple ideas -- ones that make something work so easily, that it becomes a seamless part of our world. Jack Dorsey, Twitter's founder, told Charlie Rose in an interview: "I think the best technologies -- and Twitter is included in this -- disappear. They fade into the background, and they're relevant when you want to use them, and they get out of the way when you don't."

Twitter's stunning simplicity is what has made it such a blockbuster. That less-is-more approach -- creating something that stealthily becomes a part of our lives -- is true innovation. The simplest things are often the hardest to master.

The same is true with LinkedIn, founded by "start-up sleeper" Reid Hoffman. His company has virtually obliterated the need for a paper resume, making career advancement a process, woven into social media.

The latest example of LinkedIn's innovation is its brand-new standalone iOS app, called "LinkedIn Contacts," which aggregates all your business contacts in one place. This is another example of a simple idea, executed brilliantly -- your most important business contacts can be easily and quickly accessed.

The best business leaders innovate before they are forced to. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, put it best in his 2012 letter to shareholders. "When we're at our best, we don't wait for external pressures. We are internally driven to improve our services, adding benefits and features, before we have to," he wrote. "We lower prices and increase value for customers before we have to. We invent before we have to."

There Is No Substitute for Passion and Integrity

Taking an idea from concept to market is hard work. In the end, the only thing that sustains a business during the inevitable ups and downs of economic cycles is passion for the idea. When the people working on the idea are passionate and have integrity, the innovation intrinsically has those same qualities. This keeps the business moving forward.

Innovation is cultural. It starts with ideation, followed by a plan to be executed, which is measured for results.

For me, innovation is achieved through a culture of ideas, a system of planning and great communication.

George Pyne is president of IMG Sports and Entertainment, IMG board member and board member of 24 Hour Fitness. He is also the former chief operating officer and a board member of NASCAR.

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