In today’s fast-paced business landscape, driving internal innovation isn’t merely a trend — it’s a strategic necessity. Corporate innovation has emerged as a key determinant of growth and competitiveness, significantly impacting an organization’s long-term success. In fact, a comprehensive study conducted by McKinsey in 2018 revealed that a commanding 84% of global executives believe innovation is crucial to their company’s growth strategy.
Underlining this notion, Steve Jobs once said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” This statement highlights the importance of corporate innovation in establishing a company’s market leadership.
An integral part of this innovation strategy lies in harnessing the parent organisation's power, often called the “mothership.” However, numerous organizations fall short in tapping into and maximizing the ‘mothership’ advantage. This isn’t due to a lack of willingness, but rather a lack of understanding about how to do so effectively.
Below is a 7-step blueprint designed to guide organizations to effectively utilize their organizational advantage, fueling internal innovation and driving market success.
Creating a culture of corporate innovation isn’t an initiative — it’s a revolution, and like every revolution, it needs an inspiring leader. The responsibility of fostering this environment begins with the C-suite. When senior leaders become the champions of innovative thinking, they inspire employees to step out of their comfort zones, embrace new ways of working, and contribute their unique ideas. This leadership commitment is key to nurturing a creativity-rich environment that encourages curiosity, embraces diversity, and welcomes disruption.
The legendary Peter Drucker once noted, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
Leaders must cultivate a culture where innovation thrives, as even the most brilliant strategy is ineffective without a supportive culture to carry it.
The path of corporate innovation is laden with decision forks, where the right turn can lead to groundbreaking solutions, while the wrong one may lead to dead ends. In this ever-evolving landscape, the role of decisive leadership is pivotal — it’s not a luxury but a necessity.
Leaders must make firm “go/no-go” decisions about the direction and scope of innovative projects and initiatives. While seemingly straightforward, these decisions can have far-reaching consequences on the organization’s innovation trajectory.
This decisive approach paves the way for a more focused and effective innovation strategy. It allows the organization to channel its resources, both human and financial, towards initiatives that show real promise. By swiftly moving past dead ends, companies can reduce wasted effort and increase their speed-to-market — a crucial factor in today’s fast-paced business world.
Large corporations possess a potent advantage over startups: they have an established customer base, well-entrenched markets, and efficient distribution channels. These resources are invaluable assets in the innovation process, providing a fertile ground for the development, refinement, and testing of innovative ideas.
An established customer base offers corporations a direct line to invaluable user feedback. This feedback can guide the iterative process of innovation, allowing companies to make necessary adjustments and improvements to their ideas based on actual user feedback. With the ability to test new products and services on a receptive audience, corporations have a clear advantage over startups looking to take their market share.
Well-entrenched markets are another major advantage. Corporations have an existing brand reputation and visibility in the marketplace, and they understand the market dynamics, consumer behaviour, and competition. Finally, efficient distribution channels allow corporations to reach their customers quickly and effectively. Startups often struggle with distribution, but for established corporations, these channels are already in place.
Every corporation, in essence, is a treasure trove of knowledge and expertise. With diverse domains and skills under one roof, companies are sitting on a goldmine of intellectual capital. Leveraging this internal expertise can give companies a significant advantage, reducing the need to rely on external entities for knowledge or assistance.
From product design and marketing strategy to financial planning and customer experience, a corporation’s existing employee base encompasses a broad spectrum of competencies.
Highlighting the importance of in-house expertise and its role in fostering innovation, Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, once stated, “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”
Innovation is a journey, and like any journey, it requires a smooth path. However, this path is often laden with obstacles that can hinder progress and stifle creativity within large organisations. These internal barriers can take the form of bureaucratic red tape, resistance to change, communication gaps, or siloed departments.
Companies need to proactively work towards identifying these friction points and dismantling them. This might involve simplifying approval processes, facilitating change management, enhancing internal communication, or breaking down departmental silos. By removing these internal barriers, corporations can ensure that their creative and implementation processes proceed unhindered.
Collaboration is the lifeblood of innovation. It facilitates the exchange of ideas, encourages creative problem-solving, and harnesses the organisation's collective intelligence. When individuals from varied backgrounds, possessing diverse skills and unique perspectives, join forces, they are capable of producing an array of ideas that are unlikely to surface within a uniform group.
Encouraging collaboration within a corporation isn’t confined to encouraging team members to work together. It extends to promoting cross-departmental and interdisciplinary collaboration.
Interdepartmental collaboration eliminates silos, allowing for a free flow of ideas and information throughout the organization. It facilitates the sharing of knowledge and insights, enabling teams to build on one another’s expertise. Interdisciplinary collaboration, on the other hand, brings together individuals with different skills and knowledge bases. An engineer and a marketer, for instance, bring vastly different perspectives to a problem. By working together, they can come up with solutions that neither could have developed in isolation.
As Steve Jobs once said, “Innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea, or because they realized something that shoots holes in how we’ve been thinking about a problem.”
The path to groundbreaking ideas and solutions is rarely linear; it is a winding road characterized by trial and error, exploration and discovery, and above all, learning from failures.
Thomas Edison, one of the most prolific inventors in history, once famously remarked, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” This sentiment embodies the essence of an innovator’s mindset — viewing failures not as an end but as a stepping-stone towards success.
However, in many corporate cultures, the fear of failure can stifle creativity and inhibit risk-taking. Employees who fear being penalized for failures or missteps will be less likely to venture beyond their comfort zones and propose new, innovative ideas. In contrast, when companies celebrate both victories and failures, they foster an environment where it’s safe to take calculated risks. Celebrating failures as learning opportunities sends a strong message to employees that innovation is about the journey, not just the destination.
In conclusion, leveraging the strengths of the parent organization, or the “mothership,” can significantly amplify a company’s corporate innovation potential. This guide provides a framework for empowering corporate innovation, transforming nascent ideas into market successes, and ensuring organizations stay competitive in the rapidly evolving marketplace. With the right approach, the ‘mothership’ advantage can serve as a powerful catalyst for growth and internal innovation.
The WorkFlow podcast is hosted by Steve Glaveski with a mission to help you unlock your potential to do more great work in far less time, whether you're working as part of a team or flying solo, and to set you up for a richer life.
To help you avoid stepping into these all too common pitfalls, we’ve reflected on our five years as an organization working on corporate innovation programs across the globe, and have prepared 100 DOs and DON’Ts.