Anybody who has had the good fortune to work in a startup as well as in a corporatised environment will know that corporate innovation is an animal by itself. To make that animal move and keep it going, critical myths must be busted.
Myth #1: Innovation is all about ideas.
Truth: Innovation is as much about knowledge-sharing, collaboration and execution. As innovation becomes ‘the’ way of doing things for firms, the emerging structures of team formation and work allocation demand increasing openness of channels for communication and feedback. The devil, of course, remains in the details. Hence, systematic follow-through of ideas and their execution determines success.
When structuring the innovation process, bear in mind that there is a grimy and messy back end beyond the warm and fuzzy front end of innovation.
Myth #2: Innovation must be disruptive and create a white space.
Truth: While this could be true for an entity that is looking to establish itself as a player in the market (check out RentSher and MealTango) for the corporate engine that wants to weave innovation into its DNA, it is more likely to be incremental, addressing the core business.
Encourage employees to make incremental improvements to routine activities. The impact of innovation activity is only magnified when even the mundane gets a productivity boost.
Myth #3: Innovation means creating new products.
Truth: Early literature on metrics for corporate innovation is responsible for the belief in this myth. In reality, innovation also includes creating new processes and business models. Doblin, the innovation consulting firm, has in fact noted ten types of innovation in three categories. Some of the highest impact innovations have come about through business model innovation (think #Uber) and process innovation (think Aravind Eye Care).
Look beyond just product development. The gold could be elsewhere.
Myth #4: Innovation is the domain of R&D departments.
Truth: A corollary to the previous point, innovation can also be brought about by other functions. You can only build a culture of innovation in a company if all employees believe that they have a role to play. Just as innovation does not comprise product development alone, it is not the reserve of R&D teams alone.
Get all hands on deck.
Myth #5: Innovation happens at the grassroots.
Truth: Innovation requires a linkage of bottom-up and top-down approaches.
Innovation does require a willingness to defy convention, an attribute that tends to decline with increasing seniority. Hence, the bottom-up approach is necessary to fuel innovation. However, complex pivot points that involve decision-making accompany innovation projects. These are perhaps better addressed in a top-down fashion. Note, however, that the person who ‘knows’ more is not necessarily the person who innovates better.
Define scope and authority for the teams at the bottom as well as the executives at the top.
Myth #6: Innovation requires highly creative and intelligent workers.
Truth: In reality, innovation more often requires highly networked workers. Innovation success comes from carefully structuring the process for consistently better results. In fact, superior talent could serve to mask organisational inefficiencies. Instead, a well thought out innovation process would lead to more predictable results despite variability in talent.
Break processes down into well-defined steps; then talent will not matter much.
Myth #7: Innovation should be remunerated monetarily to increase employee motivation.
Truth: Innovation thrives on increasing degrees of empowerment – self-directed use of time, resources (human and capital) and authority. The battle between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can be best seen in the case of innovation projects. In the long run, and a company is concerned with the long run, it is factors that help build intrinsic motivation that keep the innovation engine going.
Cater for serendipity and blurring of boundaries. Monetary rewards are an afterthought.
Myth #8: Innovation requires large capital outlays.
Truth: Innovation is often most successful when capital is constrained. Constraints engender creativity and novelty. They also foster sustainability and endurance. But most of all, they help focus efforts on the problem that must be solved rather than on administrative detailing.
Give your innovation project teams enough to work with but not everything they ask for.
Corporate innovation is a marathon, not a sprint.