We conducted a series of interviews with innovation leaders at major companies and shared our learnings in a Corporate Innovation Playbook. We summed up some interesting insights and anecdotes here.
Last week we sat down with a VP of Innovation & New Business Development at a Fortune 500 manufacturing company, an Innovation Venture Manager at a top insurance company, and a Strategy Manager responsible for innovation at an international non-profit. We’re grateful for the time they gave us and loved the diversity of perspective each brought to the broader conversation we’re having around corporate innovation. We also captured these learnings in a podcast, which you can find here.
Check out some of our favorite quotes and anecdotes from our interviews:
- “It’s not that risky, but that’s what makes it risky.” One innovation team we spoke with has good ideas, a strong mindset, and are spending their money wisely, but for the most part continue to shy away from bigger opportunities because they feel too different from their core business model. Yet there’s risk to the firm in not pursuing the opportunities with the real upside and that lay a great foundation for future innovation. What we’re hearing confirms a known truth in corporate innovation that strong senior leadership who see the long-term value in exploring these breakthrough opportunities is critical. They play a crucial role in protecting ideas and the teams working on them from premature skepticism and misplaced criticism coming from outside the CIG. We’ll be listening for ways to navigate the leadership you have and how to enable everyone to think long-term without glossing over quick wins.
- “This innovation team was built by a big organization, so why would we think it wouldn’t act like one?” This resonated with us in its simplicity and affirmed that no matter how hard we try to shake our institutional biases and norms, they sort of creep into everything. On the one hand, when you intentionally build and growth your culture and organizational systems, that’s exactly what you want to happen! However, it presents a tension when you create a part of the organization that has been tasked to generate its own micro culture, systems, and processes. We’ve seen some CIGs navigate this successfully by drafting and socializing an innovation charter that explicitly communicates their mission, how they work, how decisions are made, and perhaps most importantly, how they’re different from the rest of the organization.
- “Where are our blinders?” One of the teams we spoke with has made a point to constantly innovate upon themselves. One of the ways they do that is by conducting post-mortems after they complete a project effort (or a major phase of one). And as another interviewee confirmed, “you have to incubate the incubator.” This seems to be a common theme that we’re hearing: CIGs need to treat themselves as a venture that can pivot and evolve as they collect more behavioral data around what works (and what doesn’t).
- “I have no idea, just test it and see what works.” This is what one CEO said after he was asked how he would approach the adoption of a new technology. We’ve heard that there’s great leadership and vision at the CEO level, but there tends to be more gaps in this experiment-and-learn mindset in the sub-layers of leadership. One hunch we have is that the CEO is thinking about the risk of not doing it, whereas an SVP is thinking about the risk of doing it and failing. Both are important, so we think the trick is right-sizing the risk so it sits in the middle of this tension.
- “We decided to shelf our own product.” We almost never hear that narrative. Much often it’s story about an “us versus them” mentality where leadership “shuts down an idea.” In this case, the team said that they realized the business model wouldn’t work and the customer desirability wasn’t as strong as they had initially thought. Why? They admitted that they didn’t do as much customer testing in between their initial research and when they started to engage in scaling activities.
- “Create new revenue streams and diversify growth.” This was the distinct mandate from one of the CIGs we spoke with. We loved hearing a clear and actionable mandate (not always the case), however, they lacked strong metrics and expectations from leadership; instead, leadership asked them for direction. This demonstrates that metrics are often unintentionally a moving target and kept loose until a venture is truly ready to be transplanted into the BUs (this was echoed by several others). In our experience, this makes sense, because innovation is about dealing with “unknown, unknowns,” and requires us to stay open to uncovering and responding to them as we go. But is intentionally designing fluid metrics a common practice? We’ll be listening for more about this tension on the tour.
Because we’re always questioning our own assumptions…Is this helpful? Too surface-level? Too detailed? What’s missing for you? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.