Oysters, Google, and 9 Principles of Innovation.

One might be surprised to find that some of the principles we use to guide our oyster farm come the world of technology, apps, social design and cloud computing.  [Click the headline to read more] While it is decidedly true that we use good old-fashioned bay water and plain old oyster seed to grow our seafood, we look to some of the greatest catalysts of change to guide our business and philosophical approaches.   This was true in our early stage development and is truer every day as we grow.

Recently Google’s chief social evangelist, Gopi Kallayil explained 9 principles of innovation that drive Google and foster the kind of dynamic, prolific creation of products with a large dose of social change.  Reading a FastCompany article about his speech, I realized that many of these principles guide our own business and I propose, more importantly, they can be adapted to just about any business.

Here are Google’s 9 Principles of Innovation and how we apply them to our little corner of the world:

1. INNOVATION COMES FROM ANYWHERE

A personal favorite.  The idea that only someone in a creative or R&D capacity should create is silly.  For every “someone should ___” there is a someone.  Of course, what happens if you are a small business, short on someones?  Don’t forget the other 7 billion people living in the world.  For every problem, there is a tinker in search of something to tink about.   For example, we use crowdsourced innovation challenges to help us build a better mousetrap and participate in others to help influence somebody else’s mousetrap.

For some hardcore crowdsourced innovation, check out innocentive.com:
InnoCentive is the global leader in crowdsourcing innovation problems to the world’s smartest people who compete to provide ideas and solutions to important business, social, policy, scientific, and technical challenges.

2. FOCUS ON THE USER.

Seems pretty straightforward.  Making and growing something for someone, one ought to consider what the user needs and wants.  A simple example? We hate oysters that are hard to open.  For the consumer this means waste and embarrassment at best, at worst an aversion to your product.  We are determined to spend the time, money and effort required to produce a sturdy shell.  We will later work on the costs required to sustain this practice, but without a workable shell, we don’t have the product we want.

French innovation: a pull-tab oyster!

What about temperature and transit?  We are looking at his not because law says we have to (yet!) but because fresh produce is the whole damned point.  So we reached out to some seriously interesting people who are now building a unique temperature sensing sticker that will ship with our oysters, and will indicate any breach of temperature thresholds and show for how long.  Tamper proof, affordable, simple and something that brings peace of mind to both ends of the shipping dock.  Actually. Cool.

Plans for the temperature threshold monitoring innovation.

Plans for the temperature threshold monitoring innovation.

Affordable temperature threshold monitoring innovation.

Affordable temperature threshold monitoring innovation.

One of the benefits of being new is that we don’t have years of “we always do it this way” to hamper us.  One of the benefits of being open-minded is that sometimes the “we always do it this way” practices are in fact the best way.  Best of both worlds.

3. AIM TO BE 10X BETTER

This can be a tricky one.  Does it mean that we need to grow an oyster that is 10x better than others?  That would be a tough proposition indeed.  Especially since we happen to like a whole lot of our fellow oysters.  We take this to mean aiming to be 10x better overall.  Work hard for improving our products, but also for improving our community.  We will publish a quarterly list of purchased materials and equipment and where they are coming from with a challenge to local businesses and innovators to become local providers.  We seek out ways to give back to our bay, and take on greater stewardship responsibilities.

4. BET ON TECHNICAL INSIGHTS

We are data junkies here.  We record all sorts of information- water and air temperatures, salinity, observations about water color, algae, growth, other species found in and around our gear, rainfall, sunshine.

Screen shot 2013-04-30 at 9.54.35 PM

We will continue to evolve our data collection to help inform our innovation.  We watch the growth of crowd based solutions from crowdfunding to crowdsourced innovation and design and see how people are seeking to add to their own personal worth and contribution outside their own jobs and lives.   Working with these smart, dynamic people has driven us in a way that belies our small size.

5. SHIP AND ITERATE

We can’t wait for the perfect oysters, or even the perfect oystering processes.  We are growing and learning along the way. Making adjustments, begging for feedback from our crowd of supporters, from restaurants and distributors, fellow growers, farmers, brewers, app makers, etc.  Without feedback and iterations, we would not be growing a company, just growing oysters.

6. GIVE EMPLOYEES 20 PERCENT TIME

The Holy Grail of the Google approach.  The idea is to allow employees 20% of their time (1 whole day/week!) to do something outside their job title.  Follow a passion.  This is not a day off.  The idea is to take a passion, learn from it and perhaps develop it into something useful for the organization.  This would easy when you are small, except it always seems that you don’t have 20% extra time.  Two words: Make it.

Do you think you can't afford to let an employee to explore?  We think you can't afford not to.

We try to give ourselves time to think alongside the box, near the box, away from the box, forget the box all together.  Our current example- we were talking with someone about the brininess of our oysters.  We started to think about how brininess and salinity are such important terms in the oyster world.  In science and on menus.  We looked into creating a natural sea salt from our waters to help us share the purest essence of this brine.  After some time we realized that we could also build a product that could add to our engine-for-good-  a commitment to give back a percentage of the proceeds of the sale of our “Fleur de Shell” sea salts was born.

Fleur de Shell: curiousity in a bottle.

Fleur de Shell: curiousity in a bottle.

7. DEFAULT TO OPEN PROCESSES

We believe that what we do shouldn’t be secret.  We’ve spoken about our techniques and processes to other growers and have received great feedback from them.  The idea is to improve for all.  We’ve also help guide some fellow startups through the application processes or help them understand the startup needs of the operation.  When we started to build a tumbling and sorting system for the farm we opened the process out to the world and gathered input from: people who are gold prospecting, compost sorters, ball bearing manufacturing, kinetic sculptors, and the entire Maker community of tinkers.

8. FAIL WELL

Whoa boy, is this one a life saver.  In the bad old days, failure of a product or system was something to bury.  Maybe even a company killer.  We look at our failures as growth opportunities.  There must be some component of the idea that was good.  Or some new innovation that can be started upon because of what we’ve learned.  Experiment.  Fail Well.  Repeat.  Succeed.

9. HAVE A MISSION THAT MATTERS

This one is an easy one for us.  Sure we plan to produce some damned fine oysters, enjoy our efforts and create a sustainable business in all senses of the word sustainable, but…  Our mission is to use this engine to do more, more than we can list here now because we haven’t even started to identify all the places we can do great things.  We can contribute to our environment, support the growth of responsible small business in our community, career creation for our fellow citizens, create a legacy of positive contributions and have impact far outreaching our status as the dinky, new-guy grower of oysters in Peconic Bay.  No small goals?  Remember, 10x better.

20130904_Progressive_Oysters_11

Think about how your own business, small or large could integrate these Principles of Innovation.  Please post your comments below.

For some extra credit, give a look at Mr. Kallayil’s speech at a TEDx Conference about finding “Meaning and Context” in your work.

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