‘Innovation is …’: Six pearls of wisdom from Smart50 winners Mr Yum, Pickstar and Charlie’s Fine Foods

Mr-Yum-Kim-Teo

Mr Yum co-founder and chief executive Kim Teo. Source: supplied.

Creating a culture of innovation within your business is about making space for your employees to experiment and solve problems, and trusting them to do so. 

It’s also as much about what is ‘left unsaid’ as it is the language you use within your teams and with suppliers, partners and customers. 

These were just some of the insights shared by Smart50 winners Mr Yum, Pickstar and Charlie’s Fine Foods in a special LinkedIn Live event last week, which was made possible by the support of our partner MYOB. 

I was joined by Mr Yum co-founder and CEO Kim Teo, Pickstar co-founder and CEO James Begley and Charlie’s Fine Foods co-owner Jacky Magid to drill down into what innovation looks like on a daily basis for these fast growing companies. 

Mr Yum took home the Rising Star Award in the 2021 Smart50 Awards, while Pickstar was named SmartCompany Plus Innovator. Charlie’s Fine Foods received the Resilience Award in recognition of how the business navigated the challenges of the pandemic. 

Here are six insights from our discussion. You can watch a recording of the event here

1. Innovation is about hiring the right people

At Mr Yum, Teo says the 150-strong team is focused on how they can “10x” an opportunity, rather than “2x” it – that is, how can they unlock exponential growth? The CEO says the answer lies in hiring the right people. 

“More than anything, we just hire people that are creative … that have a track record of trusting their gut and their instincts, and making good decisions. And try as much as possible to get out of their way.” 

“I think management, and micro-management is what stifles innovation and creativity.” 

2. Innovation starts with space

For Pickstar co-founder James Begley, innovation is “not something you implement, it is a state of mind”. 

This means leaders must create time in their employees’ schedules to think, and give them “the license to eliminate tasks”. And those in charge need to model the very behaviours they want to see.

“To be innovative, you’ve got to accept that creativity is not something you turn on for 20 minutes and you suddenly download all this innovation, and then you move on to the next task,” he said. 

“I think innovation starts with some space to think,” he said. 

Pickstar

Pickstar co-founders James Begley and Matthew Pavlich. Source: Supplied.

3. Innovation is solving problems

All three panellists agreed that at the very heart of innovation is problem solving, and these problems don’t always have to be big. 

At Charlie’s Fine Foods, Magid and her business partner Ken Mahlab have long awarded staff their ‘Clever Cookie’ award, which is about “giving people the opportunity to come up with ideas that make improvements, that make change, that solve problems”. 

“There have been some great small changes that have had big impacts on the business,” said Magid.

Smart50 Resilience Award

Smart50 Resilience Award winner: Charlie’s Fine Food Co.

4. Innovation is not linear

Rewarding creativity is an essential piece of the innovation puzzle, says Begley, but that means understanding that the process is not a linear one. 

“It is not something where A plus B equals C,” he said.  

“Innovation, or the ability to create step-change value in your business, does not come by just an easy sequence of events.”

5. Innovation is being curious and thoughtful

At Mr Yum, Teo says the words ‘curiosity’ and ‘thoughtful’ are commonly heard in job interviews. 

‘You pretty much don’t get through the first round of interviews if you haven’t asked … some thoughtful, meaningful question,” she says. 

Being able to ask thoughtful questions, or respond to questions in a thoughtful way, is a great enabler for collaboration, says Teo. And this often comes down to individuals being able to draw on all of the data they have gathered over their lifetime. 

“Instinct is made up of all these data points and they are all the things you have learnt. People say that’s not a data-driven decision, but it is. It’s a data-driven decision because I have collected all these data points over my lifetime, not just in my last year or two years in the company. That’s what’s driving your instinct. 

6. Innovation is about making mistakes

Our Smart50 winners all believe strongly in empowering their teams and that means letting them know it is okay to make mistakes. 

It is one of the most important things for the leadership at Charlie’s Fine Foods, says Magid. “But with that comes a level of accountability too,” she says. 

“By empowering people to make mistakes … that then gives them ownership,” she added.

You can watch the full conversation here, or watch the highlights below.

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