Innovation culture at Axis: Developing for the future
April 21, 2023
The mission to innovate for a smarter, safer world has always been engrained into the DNA of Axis. It shapes the way we think about everything, from product design to ways of working, and how we care for our employees. To better understand the culture of innovation within Axis, we spoke with Thomas Ekdahl, Manager of the Products, Concepts, and new ideas (PCNI) team.
What is the Axis PCNI team, and what do you do?
The PCNI team are part of the Axis Technology Development organization. We are a team of eight engineers, with a range of competencies, from mechanical to software and hardware engineering, who work on innovation full time. Our mission is to argue for new products. We don’t create products. Instead, we write the story about something new that could be beneficial for Axis in three to five years’ time. I like to say we are a separate organization but not isolated, and that is because we need a high degree of freedom in exploring new things but still, we need to have a good foundation in our running business. You could say that we are the greenhouse within Axis. We’re protecting new ideas, building them strong and making them concrete and tangible. Going from a sketch on a napkin to something that will start discussions.
How do you encourage an innovative mindset?
It’s very important to encourage the curiosity that is within us as people and engineers. Curiosity is crucial in terms of what is happening within technology, about how our business works, and about the issues that need to be resolved. Both currently and in the future.
We have a lot of relaxed and informal discussions with our partners and end customers, for example. They provide a lot of valuable insights that we can feed with other insights from our wider internal network, like global sales engineers, key account managers, sales representatives, and regional offices. Of course, we can do some elaboration and assumptions ourselves, but it is important that we understand the needs of our stakeholders. We try to get as much stimuli as possible into the group, to have a map to navigate by and to give us a better understanding of what is ahead of us. We greatly encourage curiosity, discussion and to bring new ideas forward.
How do you come up with new ideas?
We always have open channels of dialogue with our partners, integrators, end customers and colleagues. This helps us to better understand the issues that need to be resolved, and to drive us to come up with new ideas. We also have a three-to-five-year, long-term view on what could occur. We conduct a trend study once a year within technology trends specifically. We look at what’s going on, how it could affect Axis, and if we see any potential threats that need to be addressed or opportunities we can develop. It’s like the quote from Henry Ford “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. It’s about looking to decode what lies further down the road, beyond the issue the customer is expressing in the present.
The workspace in which we work is open. This allows us to have quicker discussions with each other, meaning fewer formal meetings. Our workspace is also open to everyone within Axis to come and visit. We have themed breakfasts every Wednesday, where we invite people to come and talk with us about what they experience in their area of the business. It helps us to better understand how to pitch new ideas and how to communicate that in a better way.
We are a team of skilled engineers, but we are also generalists. Having a broad internal network within Axis is important to us. It allows us to find expects within a specific area, which is essential for us as a team.
Why is innovation, and a culture of innovation, so important to Axis?
When it comes to innovation, we are in a very fast moving and competitive business. We are market leaders, and that makes us a target for competition. We need to be the front runners; we have no choice in that really. This is one of the biggest reasons why innovation is so important to us.
Luckily, we have an organizational mindset that promotes open-mindedness and quick communication. This helps to drive new initiatives from different departments within Axis, all in the name of innovation. In this way Axis is more of a community than a company because we have a bottom-up approach. I think this is an important way for us to survive long-term as a company. We must continuously go back, re-evaluate, and think about how we can continue to be innovative. We are a growing company and it’s not as easy to navigate as it was ten years ago, but by understanding and acknowledging that, we can find better ways to address it in a good way.
The PCNI team has existed for over ten years, and though we have undergone changes during that time, driving innovation has always been our main task. Throughout that time, we have had to manage energy and expectations because innovation is hard work.
How do you create and sustain a culture of innovation?
Ultimately, it’s a matter of maintaining that passion among the engineers. We have a lot of engineering power within Axis, and we are all passionate about what we are doing. All Axis employees have their own inner motivations of course, and a belief that what they are doing is good for Axis and the wider world. We have to take care of that and manage the energy among the people and colleagues across Axis. It’s important that people feel listened to, that we reflect on what they are saying. It’s something you need to continuously practise.
For example, how you approach someone who has come up with an idea. Should I ditch it outright or take the time to ask how we can help them develop it? We create and maintain the culture of being open, since that is one of our core values, but it is important to continuously reflect on it. It has to be more than just words.
“Everyone is entitled to innovate at Axis, expected even”
What are some of the ways you help to maintain that passion?
We try to ensure everyone feels recognized for what they are doing, even though we may not have the full picture. Sometimes an idea might be put forward that is good for Axis, but conflicts with our business model for example. By helping each other understand what the conditions are for our business, we can also tweak and adjust the ideas so that they fit into our business model. Ideas are something that continuously undergo change. There is usually always some organic development of an idea. It is rare that an idea will be presented in its final form, so we must be respectful in how we approach suggesting change or growth. We are more of a collective genius, rather than a lone genius with a brilliant idea. We are all involved.
Another way is to lower the threshold for innovation. To some people innovation may seem scary, but for me it’s about constantly asking yourself ‘how can I make the things I’m doing today, better for tomorrow?’.
It is not that complicated. People tend to think of innovation as being the next big disruptive phenomenon, something that will change the way the world views and uses technology. That doesn’t happen very often. We launched our disruptive technology with the network camera. It wasn’t supposed to be that way, but we reached a point where it began outperforming existing technology. It’s important then to have patience, to look ahead but to keep the conversations going regarding new things. That is the key to innovation. We try not to allow anyone to get too downhearted at the first sign of push back.
We have a saying that we will not put new ideas in the bin, instead we will put them on the shelf. Maybe we need to wait for the right time, the right business conditions perhaps, then we can come back and revisit it. Take it down from the shelf and re-evaluate it.
It’s about conveying the right mindset. Everyone is entitled to innovate at Axis, expected even. Innovation is encouraged and we have to respond when innovation is happening in respectful ways. By doing that we will create and maintain a space of psychological safety, which is something that needs to be in place for innovation to happen and thrive.
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