“Innovation is hard. The larger your business, the harder it gets.”
Is the above statement true? Maybe. More importantly, does it have to be true? No it doesn’t.
One of the most common mistakes in large companies in respect to innovation strategy is that when they see themselves as “big”, they need a “big” innovation model to succeed. Consider the life-cycle of a company. First, in startup mode, they are agile by default. They don’t look out past 2/3 months, with many looking at bringing new features to their product so they can secure the next round of funding. Once they grow and mature, and longer term goals become a priority and less financial pressure results, innovation slows down. The longer it does so, the more investment is needed to get it back.
Whilst having a large business means sharing knowledge becomes more of a challenge, there are advantages to size and scale. For one, diversity is a critical component in innovation, and the larger the company, generally the more diverse it is, its how you identify and partner that diverse thinking that can differentiate your innovation strategy. To enable a large organisation to reach its true innovative capacity, there are a number of approaches that can be used to reach it. Some of these are introduced below.
Disruptive Innovation Task Teams
A concept to consider when maintaining your innovation strategy is placing disruptive innovation task teams into your existing business model, whereby they act with limited budget and resources, look no further than 2/3 months out and are agile by nature. The also have a keen eye on not what the customer wants now, but what they will need in the future ( but not too far out 6-12 months). Planting a seed team like this can result in cross pollination with other product teams around it, and this will increase your companies overall ideation. A key component of these teams is to ensure there is diversity present, with both seasoned campaigners that have the business history, along with new generation employees that can bring outside thinking to the table.
Agile. Rinse. Repeat
One of the first aspects that is critical to success is to introduce agile as a mantra. This isn’t easy in large companies, and this is why an upfront investigation must be performed to assess how you inject it. Unfortunately, agile has been targeted mainly at software development teams, but it can have uses in other business teams, such as finance and human resources. However, it must be adapted to suit. No agile paradigm fits all. And within certain types of projects, if agile is not adjusted, then success becomes difficult (Read Ken Collier’s book on Agile Analytics for any data intelligence readers).
Think fast, learn fast, fail fast. The concept of Lean Startup is now well known, and has huge advantages. Lean startup is a method for developing businesses and products first proposed in 2011 by Eric Ries. Whether in your large organisation or in the start up space, most new ideas/ concepts fail. T he odds are not with you: As new research by Harvard Business School’s Shikhar Ghosh shows, 75% of all start-ups fail. A key component of the lean startup philosophy is to favor experimentation over elaborate planning, working with the customer over intuition, and incremental design over big design planning meetings. The aim is to build a minimum viable product, and iterate and pivot on that product. For more on this, check out the website.
Do you know your companies innovation identity? Innovation identity is the intersections between your companies technology, your innovation teams, the market(s), and other departments of the company. Two main innovation models seem to emerge:
- Thriving innovation model means the innovation culture is at the cornerstone of the corporate company; the company develops interactions both across internal departments and with external resources to complete its innovations. Cisco, Sanofi, 3M, Renault, and the open source way of working are championing this model.
- Dedicated entity model involves the creation of an autonomous unit pursuing new and uncertain activity lines. Lockheed with its skunk works, At Google for instance, innovation is at the core DNA, which links them to the first model; reversely, as they enable small teams to investigate disruptive innovation in a flexible framework, they are really close to this model
The identity of innovation has been gradually shaped by multiple interactions between different levels of a company with other external groups/organisations. And not just any type or size of external companies. The people you collaborate with must be suited to the market entry you are trying to achieve. Although they may exist within a market you are trying to enter, sometimes it is key to identify the technology required to enter that market, and even look at university collaboration to fulfill the technology requirements for market penetration.
In the way to define our innovation mantra and strategy, a look at the 10 facets defined by Jeffrey Philips can also help, positioning where you want to be:
- open vs closed innovation:
- skunk works vs broadly participative;
- suggestive vs directed, incremental vs disruptive (also stretching innovation vs “all included” innovation vs disruptive innovation);
- centralized vs decentralized;
- product / service / operations / business model, funding, wisdom of crowd vs defined criteria and experts.
Creating and maintaining the innovation strategy at your company is both a challenge and an evolution of not only your company, but also the internal personality and dynamic of the individuals who contribute to it. The direction you take and how you make the journey is down to you.