It’s sometimes easy to forget that every large corporation was once a start-up, founded on a vision, with an idea for a superior product, service or experience, and often with little capital. As they grew, so too did the bureaucratic apparatus to manage their operations. And over time they come to realise that they have stifled the innovative potential of their teams that drove their initial success.
Innovation thrives when the mission is inspiring, the business constraints are clear, and when curiosity, creativity and new thinking are encouraged across the organisation.
To reset the environment for innovation, you often need to reset your direction and boundaries.
Firstly, your innovation effort needs to be tightly aligned to your overarching corporate strategy. If you don’t have a well communicated strategy, and an inspiring north star, then you will need to invest in ensuring you can articulate your winning aspiration. Depending on the size of your business, your innovation effort can then be articulated as one or more enduring missions in service of your strategy. Establishing an Innovation Council with the independent authority to prioritize the strategic opportunities for exploration in service of these enduring missions, and to secure the resourcing of these sets the foundations for the whole organisation to get up and running in the right direction.
Once everyone is clear on where to play, they also need to be clear on what level of ambition it’s going to take to win. If your mission is sufficiently bold and inspiring, it will rarely suffice to pursue continuous improvement programs that make incremental tweaks to your current operations or enhance customer experience. You must look beyond your organisation, and even the ecosystem within which you operate, to keep ahead of the disruptive forces that are surely out there at the edge. Your teams must be encouraged to bring to the innovation council bold new ideas for new products, services or ventures for evaluation and then granted the freedom and the resources to explore divergent concepts to realize these. As we've written about previously very different capabilities underpin creativity, invention and innovation.
Just as important as ensuring that innovation effort is clearly aligned to strategic missions, is ensuring that teams follow a disciplined innovation process that validates the desirability, feasibility, viability and sustainability of the new product, service or venture. Although innovation is the youngest of the management sciences, there are proven methodologies that every organisation should implement to de-risk the pursuit of innovation. Training your teams in human centred design, lean start up techniques and agile development methodologies is key to focussing precious resources and effort on what people really need, and that societies and the planet can sustain, and to minimizing waste through the process.
Moreover, it is vital to make transparent the criteria for assessing the attractiveness of different concepts, the allocation of seed funding and resources. Otherwise you will find that you are back at the start – with your team’s appetite for innovation stifled after not receiving feedback around the decision to pursue, park or dismiss their ideas.
If you would like help with any aspect of developing your corporate innovation capability, do get in contact.