As evidenced by Microsoft, Facebook, Google and many other tech sagas, creativity drives innovation. And innovation is the key to entrepreneurial success, agreed Aman Kohli, managing director at BNY Mellon, Frank Wander, founder of The IT Excellence Institute and James Robshaw, senior director of IT at Cisco IT, who analyzed this topic during a panel discussion at the InformationWeek CIO Summit at Interop in New York City.
The executives also agreed that there is no simple or cheap recipe to inspire creativity amongst developers and other IT professionals. One of the biggest challenges is breaking down the cubicles (literally and figuratively) and creating a relaxed and flexible environment.
“People must be in a productive or innovative state of mind,” says Wander. “You must create an environment where they can actually think, innovate, relax, focus, have think-time.”
Wander says that a flexible work schedule, which allows employees to work remotely, provides the freedom to work outside the traditional eight-hour workday. Wander also recommends changing the workspace into a think-tank environment.
BNY Mellon is taking the idea of a think-tank environment a step further by opening up an office in Silicon Valley in the second quarter of 2014 solely to promote innovation, says Kohli. The Silicon Valley team will be working with the New York-based bank on a variety of projects.
Cisco has also been developing an open work environment in an attempt to promote innovation.
“The second largest expense on Cisco’s income statement is real estate,” says Robshaw. “We use to build to a 60% occupancy, that was when we had cubicles. Now with the open floor plan, we build to a 30% occupancy rate.”
An open environment may be imperative for technologists to come up with innovative ideas, but having the budget to fund the innovation is a separate task altogether.
To generate funding for innovation, Cisco has a savings program where customers can get a 5% cap on returns by the end of the year. If more than 5% is saved, Cisco IT can pocket the difference and add it to its IT budget for innovation.
Outside of having an open workspace and a decent budget, companies must also promote innovation through challenging and exciting projects. According to Kohli, BNY Mellon’s new operation in Silicon Valley is being designed to not only tap into talent, but will include innovation labs focused on products for future growth.
Cisco promotes hackathons, days dedicated to problem-solving software development, twice a year. According to Robshaw, hackathons allow employees to think about projects and problems outside their routine tasks.
All three panelist agreed that the current structures for most workplaces do not allow developers or other IT personnel to innovate. In a world where innovation is key to the success and growth of a company, any business that does not support innovation is at risk.