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How To Empower Your Teams To Innovate

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In life, innovation is the name of the game. And luckily for us humans, we’re hardwired to break and build again and again (and again). Our innate desire to create, experiment, and innovate is how we’ve pioneered technological breakthroughs that have changed the course of human history.

In the world of entrepreneurship, continuous innovation is how business leaders carve out unique niches, cater to the markets of the future, and gain a serious competitive edge. And as it turns out, crises are our greatest source of innovation inspiration. The COVID-19 pandemic, for example, has thrown many of our modern problems into sharp relief—which might explain why 73% of respondents to a KPMG survey believe COVID-19 has honed their focus on innovation, or why 60% of the top research and development spenders worldwide funneled more money into R&D in 2020.

Innovation really is do or die in business, but that doesn’t mean innovation efforts always go according to plan. Disengaged employees who aren’t connected to your mission can quickly clog up the flow of innovative thinking across your team. Even if employees are genuinely excited and inspired, myriad factors—such as unrealistic deadlines and competing strategic priorities—can quickly derail progress. And if your C-suite has a low tolerance for risk, you’ll find it difficult to justify the time and resources you need for creativity and experimentation.

Follow these three steps to empower your employees and manifest innovations that drive your business forward:

1. Set a clear vision.

More often than not, when an innovation program fails to bear fruit, it’s because there’s little to no alignment between a company’s innovation goals and strategic business goals. If this problem sounds familiar, you’re not alone. More than half of business executives surveyed by PwC said they struggle to link their innovation and business strategies. And almost two-thirds of companies that said they dedicate 15% or more of their revenue to innovation identified this lack of alignment as their top management challenge.

With this, stop acting on unconnected spurts of innovation. Your first step in any innovation project should be to outline what you hope to achieve or discover and exactly how it complements your overarching objectives and mission. Consider whether you’re exploring a solution for the wrong reasons; no one is immune to the power of “shiny object syndrome,” especially when emergent technologies hold tempting promises of market dominance. For example, exploring the potential use case of 3D printing in your business might be exciting, but if it has little to do with your strategic vision, then you’ll end up wasting time and resources.

Additionally, innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum, so you need to ensure your on-the-ground employees are in the loop. Even if the business strategy is clear, you need to be sure that you’re communicating the innovation strategy and connecting the dots for employees. How exactly do the goals, outcomes, and expectations of this particular project relate to their jobs? If you can’t paint a clear picture of how innovation fits into the bigger context, then generating the results you desire will become a near-impossible task.

2. Arm your team with the resources they need.

No matter how much Isaac Newton would like you to believe, you won’t discover your next big breakthrough under an apple tree. That’s because innovation is not a product of epiphany or serendipity. Real innovation happens when you find and leverage the correct data about your company, your customers, and your industry. However, before you can activate your data’s superpowers, you need to arm your team with the resources it needs.

Matthew Rocklin, CEO of Coiled, recommends using a DataOps platform to empower your team to innovate through data. “Most analysts don’t know where the data is,” says Rocklin. “Or if they do, it’s in such a raw and messy form that it’s unusable. DataOps platforms help to serve clean, analysis-ready data to the people who need it most without asking them to become data engineers themselves.”

Additionally, these platforms help you and your team understand how your data is being used (so you can ensure that it’s used correctly). “Once a team is aware of a dataset, accessing that data can become cumbersome or dangerous without a DataOps platform, as informal copies of sensitive data filter throughout an organization,” says Rocklin. Therefore, DataOps platforms enable more streamlined and secure data-sharing that can help your company innovate more effectively.

3. Provide psychological safety.

All the fancy data analysis tools in the world won’t save your innovation efforts if your employees are too scared to express themselves and explore new ideas due to fear of reprisal. Does failure usually lead to budget cuts or job losses at your company? Are people hesitant to speak out at companywide meetings? If this is the case, it’s no wonder that people don’t want to experiment.

To truly drive innovation, you need to foster a sense of psychological safety that gives your employees room to grow. Yujin Lee, executive creative director at B-Reel, ensures that this starts at the top at her organization. “It’s apparent that the authenticity of our executives has a trickle-down effect that creates a relaxed and psychologically safe environment for people to speak their minds, work autonomously, and be themselves,” she writes. Create psychological safety in your company by revealing your own vulnerability. Be open about your failed experiments, what you learned from them, and how you plan to do better in the future. Publicly recognize others who took bold risks, learned some hard lessons, and grew from the experience.

Then, add some structure. It’s not practical to allow your employees to throw things at the wall and see what sticks in their day-to-day duties. Instead, create controlled environments (like Google does) where employees can dedicate time and resources to exploration and experimentation without any expectations.

Throughout human history, we’ve achieved magnificent technological, ecological, and social progress through the practice of continuous innovation. Any business leader worth their salt understands what innovation is and why it’s essential—and when they arm their teams with a strategic vision, the right tools, and the psychological safety they need, there’s no telling what kind of innovation they’ll achieve next.

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Dune: Awakening is an open world survival MMO

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Dune: Awakening made its debut at The Game Awards as an open world survival massively multiplayer online game.

The game from Funcom and Nukklear looks beautiful, full of very detailed imagery of the desert planet Arrakis, also known as Dune. The game asked for beta signups, but we got no other information. Survival is the key word. Dune is a very deadly world, with sandworms and an unforgiving climate.

You can see places in the trailer like the city of Arakeen by day and night, as well as desert biomes and more. It’s not clear when it is coming. With luck, it will be close to the second Dune movie coming in late 2023.

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Rumors confirmed, Street Fighter 6 kicks off in June 2023

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Fighting Game fans are excited now that Capcom announced that Street Fighter 6 is coming to PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S and PC on June 2, 2023. The game was initially announced in February 2022, but that reveal did not include a specific release date beyond 2023.

The trailer at The Game Awards focused on new mini games and the international setting. In addition to the 18 previously announced fighter, the trailer also confirms that several new fighters — Dee Jay, Manon, Marisa and JP — that will join the game’s roster.

Notably, the June 2 release date for Street Fighter 6 may be a strategic choice for Capcom. June is the very beginning of Q3.

The last installment of the franchise — Street Fighter V — released nearly seven years ago so fans have been eager for another installment. A day before The Game Awards, the game’s June release date was leaked via the PlayStation Store.

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5 Things to Do Now to Propel Your Business in 2023

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Entrepreneurship is a daily leap of faith. In times of economic uncertainty, that leap may feel like a dive off a cliff. We are in one of those times. It likely will take months to fully re-adjust to the forces that have pummeled the world’s economy, and to entrepreneurs, months can feel like years.

With the right playbook, entrepreneurs can survive and thrive in whatever economic scenario. Here are five things you can do to propel your business ahead now and through the difficulties of business cycles for years to come.

1. Learn the lessons of more challenging times

A rocky economy presents a unique opportunity to make tough decisions about the business plan. Everything is open to reexamination. How has the market changed? Are your customers facing challenges that create new opportunities for your solutions? How do new conditions change your assumptions, and what actions do you need to take in response?

Critically evaluate your product roadmap. Is this the time to pivot or become more aggressive with your current plans? Prioritize the highest margin features that are achievable in the next twelve months. Push out projects that don’t make that list, and re-assign resources accordingly. Re-assess pricing. Even as inflation tiptoes back from the highest levels in forty years, raw material and transportation costs remain way up. What will impact your customers if you adjust the pricing or add surcharges to offset these costs, at least temporarily?

It’s been a rough year for hiring. Many companies took the talent they could get. If there are employees or gig workers who would fare better in a different job, now is the time to let them go. Make tough-minded corrections that will pay off overall — corrections that might be avoidable in less challenging times.

Related: How to Turn Inflation and Recession into Your Largest Business Opportunity

2. Tighten your grip on cash

Venture capitalists are pulling back. In the third quarter, Crunchbase reported that funding for startups in U.S. and Canada fell 50% year-over-year. Valuations are down across the board. If you are fortunate enough to be a later-stage startup that benefited from VC largess in 2021, make your last raise last longer than intended.

Keep your dry powder dry, and put off going for another round until the markets even out. Reemphasize the basics for early-stage companies with less market validation and greater distance between now and a potential exit. Delay all capital expenditures. Leverage the hybrid work model if possible, to reduce rent and other office expenses. Continue with Zoom or Google Meet. Now is not the time to rack up travel costs. Re-negotiate fees and terms with service providers. Seek credit terms with key suppliers, in a word, bootstrap.

3. Talk to customers, in person. Now.

How have the business needs of your customers — whether paying or beta — changed over the last 18 months? Are there benefits to your solution that have more recognized value now? Nearly every business, for example, from corporates to startups, has been forced to re-learn the lessons of supply chain management. Startups that can help their customers make better business decisions based on artificial intelligence (AI), reduce costs by improving inventory management or protect against out-of-stock scenarios by identifying and building relationships with new, more local sources of supply will have an edge.

Related: Finding Validation in Serving Customers

4. Non-dilutive capital

According to PitchBook, venture capitalists are showing greater interest in portfolio companies “whose satellite, robotics and software tools can do double duty” in military and commercial markets. International conflicts are one reason, of course.

Another is that the defense and military security industries are generally viewed as recession-proof. Our firm routinely encourages portfolio companies to consider non-dilutive funding from the Small Business Administration — grants to support cutting-edge technologies range from $150,000 to more than $1 million.

Navigating the application process isn’t for the faint of heart. A startup must be realistic about the work involved, but in many states, there are resources to help. Besides the funding, severe responses to agency requests for proposals are reviewed and evaluated by technologists. At a minimum, this can be terrific feedback and a great source of industry contacts.

5. Blue-chip cultures attract blue-chip talent

Company culture can be an asset or a liability. An inclusive, rich culture helps key hires say yes. Finding stakeholders that believe what you believe and are aligned with your team’s values significantly improves the odds that they will stick with you in good times or bad.

After months of “great resignation” fever, the over-heated demand for talent may be cooling off. Maybe offers aren’t as fast or grand as they were a year ago. Maybe Twitter won’t be the only advanced technology business to let people go. Regardless, the search for great talent isn’t a faucet that a young company turns off and on. A startup might modulate the timing or the number of hires but stand at the ready to recruit and filter for culture fit.

Related: 3 Ways to Stay Competitive in the War for Talent

With the right mindset and intentional approach, an entrepreneur can make 2023 a year to strive and thrive. As Yogi Berra, my favorite baseball player of all time, said, “Swing at the strikes.” In business, like baseball, the right swing can turn even the most challenging pitch into a hit.

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