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Newton, Gravity & Enterprise Innovation

How to understand enterprise innovation

9Oct

Recently a customer of ours who heads up Business Development and Innovation for a multinational company asked me “Why do we struggle to innovate in our organization?”

Not the easiest question to answer, but over a beer we began to discuss how analogous business is with the physical world — they must also obey newton’s 3 laws of motion. Using google to refresh my knowledge, Newton’s second law states that — “the acceleration of an object is dependent upon two variables — the net force acting upon the object and the mass of the object.”

If we think of this client’s organization as a huge huge huge mass that has created its own gravity; gravity in the form of processes, culture and environment. This gravity is there to support an existing scalable (and hopefully profitable) business as it loses its appetite for risk across many facets of the business, but it is incompatible when applied to an innovative startup practice.

To answer his question we started by looking at what is required to innovate consistently & continuously. Speed, autonomy, passion, talent, vision and a desire to always do something new was what we kept coming up with. The people you need to go from zero to one are not the people you have in a multi million pound organization, how can you achieve the autonomy and speed you need while the organization is dragging you towards the business as usual core; slowing you down with processes, reporting and management structures that are irrelevant for trying to design and grow new and innovating business models.

“Thanks, but all I am hearing are problems…. bring me solutions”

Throughout my time at Reason we have delivered numerous successful innovation programmes for our customers, focussing on implementation we have identified three important steps that will greatly increase the chances of your innovation endeavours seeing the light of day:

  1. Take the project to orbit — To achieve the level of autonomy, speed & agility required to get to market we need to remove ourselves from the gravitational pull of the enterprise. We successfully work with partners to remove the challenge / opportunity from the constraints of the organization and into an environment that allows these new endeavours to discover their own avenues to profitable growth.
  2. Avoid the cold dark expanses of space — We tend to associate innovation with people having the freedom to do whatever they want, but in the context of an existing business this is often a bad idea. In our experience it is not the random ideas created in employee spare time that delivers successful innovation, but the systematic and articulated focus on innovating on the core business. By harnessing the domain knowledge & strategic direction of the enterprise with the team & environment capable of dealing with uncertainty we can successfully deliver tangible innovation value to your customers.
  3. Ensure ground control is reading Major Tom loud and clear — Stay true to the business needs you are answering and the customer needs you are solving, and measure your progress accordingly. If you really want to innovate like a startup you need stay well clear of ROI, P&L and however else your existing business measures performance, these aren’t relevant — the typical return timeframe for a VC fund is 5–7 years. Ground control and the captain need to be safe in the fact that we can de-prioritise near term profits in the race for long term market dominance.

This works because we are able to escape the day to day pressures of BAU in your organization, stay true and dedicated to why you are innovating and you have your own success measurements that are created specifically to measure your innovation endeavours that can be easily communicated back to base.

Setting your innovation endeavours up this way giving the autonomy and purpose to your team allows you to:

  • Helping incumbent staff begin to think differently, no longer settling for the status quo
  • Give a level of autonomy, purpose and ownership to the team to attract and retain the level of people you want and need
  • Maintain relevance in a market changing at breakneck speed

If you have other insights into the implementation of innovation in the enterprise or questions how we have implemented these steps with our partners I would love to hear from you.

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