Trivago co-founder and CEO Rolf Schrömgens said that companies of a certain size find innovation difficult because of two factors: 1) noise, 2) ego. Although Trivago is now the dominant player in its space — matching travelers with accommodations — it’s still a relatively small company and one that continues to have a disruptive effect on the hotel marketplace. But as Schrömgens makes clear, it’s a purposeful disruption. The end goal is to build a company capable of quickly responding to the needs of consumers, solving one basic problem: how can they match you, the customer, with your perfect hotel? His conversation with Recode Decode host Kara Swisher is incredibly interesting; not just because of their exploration of how Trivago approaches this problem, but because of how the company’s management philosophy plays into this. The emphasis is less on disruption than on flexibility, both within teams and the organization as a whole. The thing about flexibility — organizational give and slack — is that, unlike disruption, it is something that you can keep up.
The leadership at Trivago decided early on that it wasn’t just an ossification of ideas that was the enemy of innovation, but ossification of power. Schrömgens says that while the settling of a company into a rigid structure with slow-changing best practices can make it harder to pursue interesting ideas or experiments, what’s even worse is the concentration of power and the resulting gatekeeping that goes with it. Do you really need a complex network of power and authority to keep your company running smoothly? What’s more important, the idea or the channel through which it arrived? Flexible workplaces, with fewer distinctions between managers and employees and an openness to different kinds of workflows, have an easier time identifying and developing interesting new ideas.
Thought leaders talk a lot about empowering top talent but this should be more than a feeling of recognition and being valued. Actually empowering them, and all of your employees, to share ideas and try new things is a good start to welcoming innovation in your workplace. It’s also a way of looking at managing people that moves beyond the change/not change dichotomy to something more humane; and something you can build a successful management philosophy of off.