How do you balance efficiency with innovation? How do you encourage innovation while still running a highly technical operation and running it well? 

As part of the research for my next book, ‘Relentlessly Relevant - 50 Ways to Innovate,’ I recently interviewed the Marketing Manager of BMW South Africa, the company recently voted ‘Coolest Brand’ in the Sunday Times Coolest Brand survey. 

I posed the question, ‘How does BMW allow, enable, or cope with innovation at staff level, particularly given that you have to be process and efficiency driven?’ 

Guy Kilfoil, head of Brand Management & Marketing Services, told me, “You touched on the answer in your question. We are not a process driven company, we are an efficiency driven company.

“The basic premise of efficiency is doing the same with less resources or doing more with the same resources. We drive our staff to live this in everything they do. We want them to ask questions like: "Is this the best way of doing things?"; "Can we do something a different way to get the same or better result?" or "how can we improve this?". 

“In that sort of environment innovation not only thrives, it is demanded.”

BMW invites its people not to follow a set of process rules, but instead to be guided by a philosophy. That’s a world away from the practice of mandating rules. A philosophy informs the team about ‘what the goal is,’ but gives them leeway to chase it intelligently, where rules only prescribe ‘what to do.’ 

The guiding principle is: ‘How can this be better?’ Based on this, BMW staff are invited to evaluate their own part of the project, take ownership of its problems, and propose solutions. In this way, they promote a culture of innovation through every department. Put it all together, and you create the conditions necessary to own your industry.