Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Innovating at Fedex

Whenever Innovation is mentioned, 3M, Dell, Xerox and Federal Express (Fedex) are often mentioned in the same breadth. These are some of the most successful and admired companies in the world. So when I chanced upon the book, "Fedex Delivers - How the world's leading shipping company keeps innovating and outperforming the competition", it seemed 'passe' to me. So what would another new book (this book was first published just last year - 2005) say about Fedex that has not already been widely recounted, discussed, analysed and dissected in countless learned articles already? But I am always interested in a good story, even if the story is already familiar. I am glad I picked up the book, because the author, Madan Mirla, has given a new 'spin' on the topic of innovation, if only because he is a Fedex insider telling the story of innovation from 'first-hand'.

Of course, some parts of the book read like many management type books, discussing the 'n' ways of achieving your goals, etc., but Mirla has interspersed many of the principles he espouses with examples from Fedex's history. This in itself is worth the read. In the course of reading this book, I jotted down some points that I found interesting:

  1. International growth (Internationlisation) is important. Fedex grew from a company managing the overnight delivery of US Federal government cheques (that's where its name originated) to a worldwide shipping company;

  2. Innovation can be a very simple act but it can have hugely significant impact on the organisation;

  3. Innovation can fail, and if its lessons are learnt well, it can grow the employee and the company;

  4. Employees are important, and they need to grow within the organisation, especialliy knowledge workers. Turnover is costly and reduces the company's capacity to innovate. In an age where outsourcing and contracting is becoming popular, this point is worth noting;

  5. Related to the above, a organisation must become a learning organisation;

  6. Employees can be encouraged to innovate through Permission Statements - a very interesting management innovation in itself;

  7. A work-life balance is important in the innovation process. Given that people work from 8 to 8 nowadays, its a point worth noting again;

  8. Innovation often comes from unexpected sources and through the combination of diverse knowledge and disciplines. Therefore, a broadbased, cooperative approach is important in the innovation process.

Some of these principles may already be familiar to you. No matter. The Fedex examples cited will give new perspectives to them. I have profited much from this book. I think you will too.