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Taking Risks Is More Important than Stability Right Now

Posted by: Reena Jana on March 19, 2009

More BusinessWeek readers believe that taking risks is more important than stability right now. That’s clear from the latest survey results from our online poll on on the state of innovation today. It’s a new feature of our multi-channel “Most Innovative Companies” special report.

One question we asked is “Which is more important to you today: Taking risks or stability?” Fifty-four percent of the 602 respondents who answered the question said “taking risks” is. The remaining 46% said “stability.”

Let’s point to another compelling question from the online-only survey to see what types of risks you might want your company to take to get more creative. In response to the query “What would you tell your boss to boost innovation at your company?” most of you (55% of the 614 who answered the question) said “Encourage all employees to submit ideas for new products.” The least popular response was “Hire an outside innovation firm” (only 3%). Here are the full results of this multiple-choice survey question:

Appoint a chief innovation officer 8%
Encourage all employees to submit ideas for new products 55%
Hire an outside innovation firm 3%
Increase R & D spending 34%

So, it seems like most of you would like to see your companies get more daring during the recession, possibly by asking more of you to come up with fresh offerings for your customers, rather than going to external experts to help you to do so.

Please keep checking in to see more sneak peeks of our online survey results. On April 9, we'll publish the final results of this Web poll of readers, as well as the official ranking of the 50 Most Innovative Companies, based on a survey of senior executives around the world, conducted by the Boston Consulting Group. The ranking will also factor in financial information on the companies.

Reader Comments

Michael Berman

March 19, 2009 4:45 PM

I think that it is always important to take risks in business and in life however, during this time of financial instability we need to be careful about the risks we take. At least, until our economy stabilizes for a longer period of time.

Fred Collopy

March 19, 2009 5:19 PM

Google's Marissa Mayer notes that when you put someone in charge of innovation it ceases to be everyone's responsibility.

Leaders at such traditional companies as aluminum manufacturer Novelis and mining company Fairmont Minerals have been startled by the number of innovative responses when employees were invited to suggest how their company's core capabilities could be leveraged.

It makes intuitive sense. Who knows more about what a company is really capable of? (If you take a company to be its people.)

Paul Foreman

March 20, 2009 7:12 PM

Allowing staff "time to think" as the survey indicates, is crucial for encouraging creativity and innovation.

I have devised a very simple method that can be tried at zero cost, and in less time than most meetings - it is called "Time To Think" and can be utilised individually or in groups.

This simple concept is presented in the form of a Mind Map and Blog post at

Perhaps readers will give it a try

Nicky Tillyer

March 21, 2009 5:30 AM

I agree with above that putting somebody in charge of innovation you can get the rest of the crew copping out, but it can work in the other way that if that person becomes instead a conduit to serve and encourage ideas and innovation it can let staff know the business take it seriously.

Calculated risks need not be any less innovative and I think in these times the referral to risk is not so much going out on a limb but making a change that might not otherwise occur due to the 'drastic measures for drastic times' adage.

I'm sure there are many many employees who bemoan the more traditional management decisions and can see a way out that might involve some 'risk' on the part of the company. This is the path employees want firms to take - be a bit daring but don't bet the farm, change can be good! Vive la innovation!

R. Vosari

March 21, 2009 7:04 AM

Ummm...3 %... does not look good for "innovation firms" (:>)

Magic Dragon

March 21, 2009 9:45 PM

Innovate! Innovate! Innovate!

Steven Keith

March 23, 2009 12:41 PM

Books have been written about this. Michael Raynor's The Strategy Paradox is one. Very interesting topic.

The Google comment always bugs me. Marissa's point about Google not making one person accountable for innovation is true...if you're Google. Many companies aren't. Sometimes you have to take into consideration the DNA of the company when talking about innovation and risk management. AIG cannot become Apple and IBM not IDEO. Google anecdotes work largely for Google.

I have come to believe that asking all employees to contribute ideas works well in spirit but rarely in practice. This is not to say companies should not do it. They should. But they shouldn't at the exclusion of a more rigorous or applied methodology to innovation and risk with an outcome approach.

And regarding the 3% polling about innovation strategy firms, I believe this is true because there are so many in the business with relatively little regard for outcomes.

(Full disclosure: I work with an innovation strategy firm who centers their approach on outcomes.)

Howie Sholkin

March 27, 2009 10:49 AM

I am not too surprised that risk taking is almost as favored as stability. During times of stress and major change, people aren't as complacent and satisfied with the status quo.

Innovation is almost a cliche and may have a lot of definitions. I look at it as a collection of usually small projects, interactions, and/or behaviors that motivate colleagues and generate positive results. When one thinks of innovation in the abstract and a big event or activity, I think people lose interest.

An important ingredient for innovation is reasonable risk-taking, trying someting new or different. If one can get over the fear of making a mistake then innovation can occur frequently in small ways.

Larry Underwood

March 28, 2009 6:50 AM

Taking calcultated risks is what good businesses do, to stay one step ahead of the competition, and in the long run, provide a better product or service for its customers.

Unfortunately, I think the majority of Corporate America is content maintaining the safe status-quo. Nervous upper and mid-level managers are too afraid that something might go wrong, and that they'd be blamed...then maybe even fired.

As a defense mechanism, when things do go wrong, finger pointing and backstabbing become the frequently used strategies, ultimately resulting in chaos for the corporation.

I witnessed a lot of that type of activity in a 26-year career with Enterprise Rent-a-Car's corporate hierarchy, and it was such an interesting experience, I just had to write a book about it: "Life Under the Corporate Microscope", which is essentially my irreverent perspective of life in Corporate America.

For info: http// Underwood

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What comes next? The Bloomberg Businessweek Innovation and Design blog chronicles new tools for creativity and collaboration, innovation case studies in both the corporate and social sectors, and the new ideas that have the power to change the way things have always been done.

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