Innovation Finalist Interview with Daniella Foster, Director, Corporate Affairs and Science Communications, Mars Symbioscience
1. What makes a company innovative?
We believe that innovative companies do not see innovation as an end, but rather a means to achieve strategic goals and meet their corporate vision. Innovative companies engender a healthy dissatisfaction with things as they are. It is their relentless desire to improve upon existing products and services that is a key driver of out-of-the-box thinking and novel approaches. Equally important, innovative companies create an environment of trust for their employees and offer them the freedom to take risks and to fail in pursuit of long-term rewards. They understand that failure is an essential ingredient to success.
2. What makes your company innovative?
As one of the world's largest food companies, Mars feels strongly that it has a responsibility to help solve the critical global challenges shared by industry and society and develop innovative solutions. These challenges at the nexus of food, agriculture and health are interrelated and complex. And we recognize that we cannot drive innovation and solve these grand challenges alone. We look at innovation as a “team sport.” Thus, we take a cross-sector collaborative approach, partnering with industry, suppliers, customers, entrepreneurs, government, NGOs and academia. Science underpins every aspect of work at Mars Symbioscience and builds on the Mars, Incorporated legacy of innovation. For the past 20 years, Mars and its network of collaborators have built an international research network aimed at pioneering and sharing leading science and innovation on advances such as understanding the impact of cocoa flavanols on human health.
As a private, family-owned business, we have the freedom to take a unique, generational approach to business. We plan for the long term, so that our business will continue to create a mutuality of benefits for generations to come. Through vision and ambition, we focus on driving transformational innovation rather than short-term incremental improvements.
We also possess a fundamental belief that innovation will grow our business in ways that are consistent with our five principles and will help deliver growth that we can be proud of. The Mars Five Principles of Quality, Responsibility, Mutuality, Efficiency and Freedom are the foundation of our culture and our approach to business. They unite us across geographies, languages, cultures and generations. They guide our associates and serve as the foundation of our innovative culture.
3. What or who are some innovative companies or people that inspire you and your team?
When seeking inspiration, we often look to courageous, entrepreneurial individuals such as Thomas Edison and Nobel Laureates Norman Borlaug and Elizabeth Blackburn. We also follow best practices from leading companies such as IBM, Intel, Virgin America/Group, etc. We find individuals who have the passion, conviction and ability to see an idea through to fruition to be inspiring.
4. What are some publications, print or digital, you read daily or have read that help you stay on top of your game?
In a dynamic and rapidly changing global environment, we find some of the most informative and engaging content through crowdsourced and real-time digital information (everything from curated content to online communities and infographics). Several publication outlets for innovative words of wisdom and great case studies include: Fast Company; Harvard Business Review; Ten Types of Innovation, The Discipline of Building Breakthroughs, Larry Keely; Leading Change, John Kotter; The Lean Startup, Eric Ries; and FIRE, Dan Ward.
5. What advice would you give to up-and-coming leaders striving to be innovative in today’s business environment?
We would encourage emerging business leaders to think like an entrepreneur and run your business like a “start-up.” Real innovation requires the courage to approach business challenges differently by trying new ideas and fresh approaches -- even in the face of the unknown. At its core, innovation is about change and change can be very disruptive to an organization and its customers, employees and suppliers. It can also have a very real impact on marketing, distribution and operations. Thus, all innovation will require change management thinking. And all innovative leaders must have both the vision and the fortitude to spearhead change and to defend the necessary exploration and the likely failures essential to drive this new thinking.