“Innovation” is no longer a buzzword but a critical success factor for organisations seeking to survive and thrive into the future. Corporate innovation in particular has started to enter the everyday lexicon of boardrooms and the emergence of innovation managers and departments is increasingly common. Unfortunately, many organisations have turned innovation into a branding exercise, creating innovation labs and rushing to hold hackathons without first doing the groundwork that make such initiatives valuable.
Having worked with numerous corporations to ensure that their innovation programs are setup to be as effective and sustainable as possible, I have gathered insights why this happens.
It is nearly impossible for entire companies to become organically innovative, without taking the effort to embed the principles of proven innovation methodologies. These include the tried and tested methods of Design Thinking, scientific principles behind Lean Startup and validated concepts of the Agile movement.
Teams need systems that facilitate innovation. Without flexible yet structured approaches to initiatives such as ideation, gathering customer insights, rapid prototyping and measuring these activities, organisations quickly move away from solving their customers’ greatest pain points and fail to unlock their greatest innovation potential, instead opting for action over effectiveness.
2. No People
The most successful corporate innovation programs I’ve seen have been executed by teams of passionate, internal influencers. Corporate innovation is a journey that must be strategically coaxed along. Any success that appears to have happened overnight likely took some combination of blood, sweat and tears to get there. Without dedicated roles such as innovation managers, agents and advocates, change is unlikely to occur and any investment in the aforementioned innovation education will have been wasted.
You’ve probably seen the below anecdote before, but behind the play on words there is a critical lesson about taking responsibility, allocating innovation-specific KPIs and setting measurable goals for an innovation team to strive toward.
This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realised that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have.
Unless your corporate innovation program has some defined, innovation-specific roles, it’s almost definitely not going to get off the ground.
3. No Money
Cost-conscious companies that focus solely on the bottom line and are hesitant to invest in corporate innovation programs inhibit their people from executing on what might be the next breakthrough innovation. The most innovative organisations have a protected, ring-fenced budget allocated to its innovation program that is never compromised, even when the company may be facing financial difficulty.
How do you optimise your innovation spend once you’ve been allocated funding? The most efficient way is to allocate small amounts of money to lots of different ideas and experiments. In his book, Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries, venture capitalist Peter Sims explains that ‘brilliant ideas’ are overrated and people routinely bet big on ideas that aren’t solving the right problems. Instead, he uses case studies such as Pixar to explain that the film giant started out as a hardware company that never found a market, and got into digitally animated movies by making a number of small bets on short films. By the same token, Hewlett Packard co-founder Bill Hewlett found that HP needed to make 100 small bets on products to identify six that could be breakthroughs.
4. No Time
Among the five reasons listed here around why your corporate innovation program is flailing, allocation of time is arguably the trickiest resource to secure. However, as with all good innovation processes, there are flexible and adaptable systems that can be put in place to ensure innovation activities are happening at your organisation. An effective way to leverage scarce resources is by holding a hackathon. Hackathons provide employees with a finite but protected amount of time for innovation, as well as ring-fenced funding with which to test their ideas. Hackathons can be conducted internally among employees, or opened up to include the public. Check out these ‘13 must haves before you run a corporate hackathon.’
Highly innovative organisations such as 3M have pioneered the “15 percent time” program that allows employees to use a portion of their paid time to pursue their own ideas. Giving employees permission to explore and experiment is critical to creating a culture of innovation.
5. No Infrastructure
They say that ‘knowledge is power’ but as Dale Carnegie said,‘knowledge isn’t power until it is applied.’ Employing the right tools and technologies to support your innovation program helps to track and measure progress.
Besides building a case for innovation internally, practical innovation tools can also be harnessed to create compelling stories and shift mindsets among employees. There are plenty of tools and apps in the market that support idea capture and management, prototyping efforts, customer acquisition, analytics and project management. Here are27 tools to accelerate your corporate innovation efforts and14 apps that support corporate innovation.
Bringing it all together
Successful corporate innovation programs require education, manpower, accessible funding (micro-investments of several hundred dollars are usually all it takes initially), practical tools and time dedicated to ideate and explore. If you’re wondering why innovation isn’t ‘happening’ in your organisation and struggling to understand why your corporate innovation program is floundering, it’s most likely because at least one of these key pillars is missing.
This guide provides an overview of the five key stages of design thinking, from empathy through to test. Find out how to apply the approach and start innovating at your organisation.