“It’s OK – we’ll be fine,” said co-CEO of Blackberry, Jim Balsillie, after the launch of the original iPhone ten years ago.

During the last two years, I have been traveling across the United States and globe giving a presentation about building a “what if” culture, or more specifically, a culture of innovation and impact. During the opening of each presentation, I show an image (see below) featuring a crowd that appears to be standing outside a storefront on June 29, 2007. I ask the audience to guess the context of this photograph. And, nearly 100 percent of the time, someone says this is an image of people waiting to get an iPhone outside an Apple store. Correct.

Then, I ask how many audience members are carrying an iPhone with them that day. No matter if the crowd is 200 or 50 people, the answer is nearly the same each time: approximately 80 percent of hands raise. I then ask who is carrying a Samsung, and nearly all of the remaining hands raise. Finally, I ask who is carrying a phone that is neither an iPhone nor Samsung. Every time, 1 to 3 people raise their hands. When I probe, usually one individual is carrying a Blackberry as a second “work” phone. No hands raised for Motorola. Nokia. HTC. LG.

Immediately after the launch of the iPhone, extremely smart leaders openly dismissed the product. Some laughed, pointing out that the device didn’t have a physical keyboard. They claimed that no customer would want a phone with a single button.

At the time, executives such as Ed Zander, CEO of Motorola questioned how Apple would be able to compete against his company. Microsoft and Nokia executives also questioned if Apple’s approach would draw and interest consumers.

Since its launch, there have been more than one billion iPhones sold worldwide.

I use the iPhone as an example during my presentation on building a culture of ‘what if’ thinking because it shows how innovation can disrupt a market in a short period of time.

This is when the presentation pivots to discuss how innovation is being embraced in other organizations. Fundamentally, there are five core elements that an organization requires in order to make an impact. Here is a short summary:

1) No hierarchy – We have all witnessed organizations that operate with ideas coming from the most senior person in a room while other participants remain quiet. The truth is, breakthrough ideas can come from anywhere. Collaboration is essential. Is your organization open enough to embrace imagination throughout the company?
2) Diversity Requirement – Author of the Medici Effect and The Click Moment, Frans Johansson outlines the case that diversity drives innovation. That there is a fundamental and powerful moment of intersection when a diverse group or team with different backgrounds, experiences and expertise come together to create. Looking at a problem or opportunity from completely different points of view is a powerful approach.
3) Say Yes! “Commit, then figure it out,” is something you will hear Mick Ebeling, CEO of Not Impossible Labs, say often. When we say yes and commit to something, we shift from viewing a situation that may seem impossible to a drive to figuring out breakthrough ways and methods to address opportunities.
4) Time and Space – I loved reading about “Google Time,” where people are required to think for a portion of their work week. When we take a break from the avalanche of to-dos and daily requirements, we free our minds to think creatively. And, space can be an important element for enhancing creativity and innovative thinking. Do you have a creative environment where breakthrough thinking can be achieved?
5) Fail Fast Environment – The absence of any item from above can add constraints for developing an innovative culture, but a company that currently has a culture where failure is unacceptable, simply will not be able to make the transition. When you are innovating, you are going to have misses, but we must stand up for those ideas. A reporter asked Thomas Edison if it was time to stop trying to create the light bulb after more than 8,000 failures. Edison’s reply, “I haven’t failed, I just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Does your organization have this level of commitment?

At Porter Novelli, where I work, we are on a journey to develop this type of culture. As a strategic communications and marketing company, our clients require us to bring the greatest level of breakthrough thinking to impact their market opportunities or change behaviors among their audiences. The journey is not easy, but when you embrace imagination as a value and principle, you put your organization on a path.