Some time ago I got an interesting comment on innovation in large companies.
“Innovation requires time and drive to explore new vistas, therefore it is understandable that busy employees can’t be bothered to look into it. The best way is for senior managers to assign a team and give them the time and resources!”
First, I agree that it makes sense to assign teams and give them time and resources to make it happen.
Next, I think this comment is dangerous: “understandable that busy employees can’t be bothered to look into it”.
If executives believe that busy employees cannot be “bothered” to look into it, this sends a strong signal that they do not prioritize innovation high enough. This is very dangerous in a business world where innovation has finally started to get high on the executive agenda and where it seem as if the future winners are those who know how to make innovation happen.
Let me add two other perspectives to the comment:
1) You should not let every employee work with innovation in a company at the same time, but everyone should be given the opportunity to contribute – some way or another. This can be through clearly identified ways for employees to suggest ideas and projects and to build on those of others. It could also be through frequent innovation campaigns such as internal business plan competitions, challenges and accelerations.
2) Even people that are busy with their daily work should be focused on improving the organization and innovating where it is possible and relevant. This is where most innovation actually happens and we tend to call this incremental innovation.
This should happen in the business units and at the business functions themselves. You can then have your assigned innovation teams to work on more demanding or more risky innovation projects where the payoff is harder to predict as well as to achieve.
On the latter point, I also believe that it is a key role for corporate innovation teams to act more like facilitators (develop the overall corporate innovation capabilities) and integrators (connect internal and external resources) rather than as teams trying to make everything happen by themselves.
You can only scale up corporate innovation efforts if you make it happen together with the relevant business units and functions and the external element can often serve as a catalyst for faster pace and more diversity.
What do you think?
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