Nurturing a culture of innovation at W.L. Gore

I heard of W.L. Gore after reading the book The Future of Management from Gary Hamel and it’s great to see them get some recognition. Here’s a video of CEO of W.L. Gore Terri Kelly talking about how Gore’s culture of innovation is nurtured:

A lot of companies ask about ’How do you innovate ? What do you invest in R&D?’ They’re not really the right questions to ask. We would flip that and talk more around ‘How do we create the right environment where collaboration happens naturally — that people actually want to work together, that they actually like to be part of something greater than just the individual contribution?’ And if you get that part right, all the other pieces fall in place that allow us to create this great innovation cycle within Gore.

Key points from the talk:

  • Very few organizational charts and titles.
  • Hierarchy only when needed and if people really want it.
  • More coaches than bosses.
  • Information sharing and peer review are the norm.
  • If you have a great idea you have to convince other people that it’s great, then you get them to join, and then your job is to keep them motivated for results.
  • Focus on getting the environment right and the business stuff gets easy.
  • Associates, not employees. (Gore associates get angry when people call the staff employees)
  • Belief that giving the right people the tools and knowledge will bring out the best in everyone, people are fundamentally motivated to do the right thing. (Theory Y managers believe that people are self-motivated and keen to find meaning in their work.)
  • Have a clear strategic intent.
  • Divide and multiply concept. Never grow too much to limit bureaucracy.
  • Low barriers to experimentation drives innovative thinking.
  • You’re only a leader is people want to follow you.
  • Trust individuals to do the right thing.
  • The culture creates opportunity for everyone to make a contribution.
  • High investment in team building.