A few days ago Cadillac announced that they were moving their HQ back from NYC to Detroit — mostly to the sound of ‘wait, what, you were based in NYC?’ Indeed — four years ago they hired an outsider as President and proceeded to set up shop in New York’s SoHo. You could now come hang out at Cadillac House, sip coffee, or work for the day, all next to some of their cars. For all intents and purposes the space looked like a fancy car dealership which doesn’t exactly conjure the type of place most people are known to (willingly) hang out in.
This was part of an attempt to return some luster to the Cadillac brand as the purveyor of desirable luxury vehicles (and not, as any New Yorker will tell you, the chunky SUV that occasionally picks you up at the airport). It was meant to send an overall message to the car-buying market that they were hip and embracing innovation. This last point gave me pause: it’s been a bit of a trend for large, global companies to set up offices tasked with innovation in the Valley, New York, London, or Berlin — somewhere known for being an innovative market and more importantly far enough away physically from the rest of the company in a bid to ensure autonomy. This is, at best, a strange trend: the expectation seems to be that innovation can somehow happen by osmosis, that the only thing a company needs to do to tap into great ideas is to place themselves somewhere where such ideas magically abound; anyone who has ever worked at a large global company can readily tell you that there’s no shortage of good ideas in large companies. More importantly, in companies large or small, ideas rarely fail at the idea stage — but they frequently fail on execution.
So instead of plonking down tens of millions of dollars to move away from home, people tasked with innovation at large companies should:
Innovation, like most things in business, is a discipline than needs to be adopted, crafted to the specifics of your organization, and iterated on to ensure improvement over time. Approaching it any other way will, at best, yield some modest short-term results.
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