Five Innovation Tips Businesses Can Learn From Dogs

Written by Dave Birss Thursday 28 March 2019
Quirky innovation advice from this business author

How satisfied are you with your company’s innovation efforts? If you’re anything like the CEOs in a recent McKinsey study, there’s a 94% chance that you’re dissatisfied with it. Even although there’s an 86% chance you believe it’s important to the future of your business. That’s quite a problem. So let’s see what we can learn from one of man’s oldest and most successful inventions: the dog.

You may not think of the dog as a human invention. But it very much is. Historians believe it all started in Belgium about 30,000 years ago when humans took control of the breeding of some friendly wolves. By taking control away from nature we created a tool that we've shaped to our needs over the years. We’ve created about 240 recognised breeds, from the towering Great Dane to the celebrity-owned Chihuahua.

Here are a few things we can learn from that process.

Five Innovation Tips Businesses Can Learn From Dogs

1. Innovation is Never Finished

We didn’t jump from the wolf to the Pekingese in a single generation. The breed is just a step in the journey rather than a final destination. Lots of companies approach innovation as a single desperate act that will help them regain relevance. But innovation only truly works for you if it’s a constant process that’s embedded in your organisation.

2. Innovation Should Be Decentralised

Anyone can breed dogs. There are international bodies that offer guidance and certification - but that doesn’t stop you taking a couple of street mutts and producing some puppies. Having innovation as a specialism or silo limits its scope. Decentralising it and having it as a company-wide ambition liberates it.

3. Embrace Unexpected Results

I don’t believe anyone set out to create the Chihuahua. Instead, it’s the result of spotting desirable traits and breeding for them. Many of these traits came along unexpectedly and the breeders embraced or rejected them accordingly. Likewise, companies need to open their eyes to the possibilities of unexpected results rather than simply branding anything that doesn’t match expectations as a failure. Opportunities lie outside your predictable norms.

4. Have a Single Decision-maker

Growing up in the 1970s, I used to watch One Man and His Dog on a Sunday evening. The thing to note is that the series wasn’t called ‘A Committee and Their Dog’. Because having numerous people giving slightly different orders is no way to keep a dog focused. And it’s the same with innovation teams. Yes, you’ll probably have a few stakeholders but you need to have one person in charge who has taken all their considerations onboard and uses that knowledge to lead the team with a focused vision.

5. Show Some Love

If you want a dog to learn a new skill, you need to show encouragement at the right time. Recognition is just as effective for innovation in the workplace. When someone does something well, it’s a good idea to publicly recognise them. It will make them want to repeat their behaviour and make others want to get involved too. That’s how you build innovation into your culture.

I’m sure there are lots more lessons we can learn, like taking regular walks or guarding your territory or cleaning up after you've made a mess. But these points are probably enough to get started. And maybe - just maybe - they’ll help you turn innovation into your business’s best friend.

Image: Shutterstock

Dave Birss is a speaker, author and one of the founders of the Fast Forward Forum. His books How To Get To Great Ideas and the Fast Forward Files are out now.