Chances are your organisation has undertaken some form of corporate innovation theatre without knowing it. Falling into the trap of what Steve Blank calls ‘innovation theatre’ and applying band-aid solutions usually leads to frustration and waste.
1. Idea Contests
Running idea contests can be a positive signal that your organisation is ‘doing’ innovation. However, momentum is likely to fall flat without backing up the top ideas with funding, expertise and time. Another ‘theatre’ clue is when the idea contest lacks a well-defined and relevant challenge or problem statement.
TIP: Provide strategic guidelines so employees will know what type of innovation to generate (incremental, adjacent or disruptive) and which ideas to cull.
2. Outsourcing innovation
There is a difference between integrating innovative ideas and borrowing innovation stories. Over the past few years, overpriced trips to Silicon Valley have become the latest C-suite corporate innovation fad. Leaders have been sold on the idea that their organisation needs an injection of startup culture. However, changing ‘costumes’ from suits to hoodies and playing table tennis instead of golf is innovation theatre at its best. Some companies have even established innovation outposts, which is a major investment. More here from Steve Blank on how to avoid innovation theatre when establishing an innovation outpost.
TIP: Innovation should not be reserved for senior manager and the C-suite. Spending money internally first on corporate innovation training and running low-cost experiments is likely to provide a better return on investment. Organisations are more likely to learn about their customers while motivating employees.
3. Chief Innovation Officers, Innovation Sherpas, Digital Prophets, etc.
No doubt creating dedicated roles with clear KPIs is needed for corporate innovation to happen. However, without autonomy, resources, sponsorship and role descriptions, these actors become ‘characters’ on the innovation theatre stage. If there is no clear direction, as well as formalised and achievable metrics, innovation won’t get ‘done’ and employees become frustrated and demotivated over time.
TIP: Create a clear role description before calling for auditions.
4. Innovation Labs
Playstations, bean bags, foosball tables and colourful furniture do not automatically translate into being innovative. Before investing in a dedicated space, organisations need to be clear on the specific purpose for the lab. Knowing that the innovation lab will be used for collaboration, customer conversations or testing experiments gives the lab an imperative for employees to use the lab.
TIP: Read my colleague Shay’s blog for more tips on How to Prevent Your Innovation Lab from Failing
5. “Innovation” is the latest exec buzz word
Senior leaders might be ‘talking the talk’ around corporate innovation but not ‘walking the walk’ by pursuing innovative ideas, providing easy access to funds and removing barriers for innovation activities to happen. Leaders seen to be paying lip service to innovation are likely to find employees disengaged and building an innovation culture nearly impossible.
TIP: Get your lead actors (senior management) involved and consider giving them some actionable KPIs such as sponsoring projects or funding experiments.
Can you relate to these examples of innovation theatre? What other ways is your company doing innovation theatre? Comment below, hit up our Twitter @collcampus or shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Acknowledgements: Thank you to my awesome team at Collective Campus for coming up with these hilarious but oh-so-true comic narratives, especially to Shay Namdarian for creating them. If you love our comics, sign up to our newsletter for your weekly dose of innovation insights.
This report draws on our work driving change at large companies as well as from thought leadership in the space of not just management literature, but also evolutionary biology, psychology and sociology, because in order to see things clearly and influence human behaviour, we need to think holistically.