Why, Where & How to Outsource Innovation
I have it! I finally figured it out! This is amazing! This is going to change the way we do business forever and consumers are going to love it!
How many times have you uttered or thought those words? You totally believe in your awesome new idea, and are SO excited and assured you’re going to make a lasting impact for your company! Well, great ideas are great – and you believe in them – until you are stifled by one, some, many, or all of the following scenarios:
- That’s a great idea! But, we need to run it by the VP first and they will need to get it into the innovation meeting next month.
- Why would we do that? We’ve always done it the same way and it works fine.
- Oh no, corporate would need to approve that and, you know…
- That’s an interesting idea – why don’t you give me a write up and I’ll look at it when I’m back from vacation.
- Oh, sure, that IS a good idea…thanks for sharing…gotta run, you know…coffee’s gettin’ cold.
- Yeah… good luck getting that idea past legal.
Most companies – certainly most large companies – aren’t built for innovation. The culture for innovation isn’t there and incentive for innovation doesn’t exist. As a matter of fact, many companies often punish innovation because change scares them. Yet, in every meeting, every press release, every rah-rah session, two words dominate: DISRUPT and INNOVATE. Then, (after the doughnuts are gone) everyone goes back to their desk/cube/trendy new stand-up work station and does what they did yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that.
So, what’s the solution? How can companies successfully initiate, cultivate and realize innovation and still maintain business continuity?
1. Separate real innovation from daily operations. If the building is burning down, no one wants to sit in the conference room and discuss how to implement better fire-retardant walls. Everyone needs to get out of the building. In other words, daily operations and emergencies will ALWAYS take precedent over allowing resources for innovation. And for good reason: innovation isn’t paying today’s bills, even if the lack of it will cost you in the long run. So, separate innovation by putting resources in place solely for that purpose. Give specific, measurable goals and targets to impact the top or bottom line. Be clear about the timeline. Give the resources involved an environment that’s completely dedicated to the future and not the present. Give innovation some breathing room…but not so much that it doesn’t have a purpose (read on).
2. Contain Innovation. Innovation will naturally disrupt the existing environment, so don’t allow the rest of the company to jade the process. Keep the ideas to a small group and don’t share out until they’re fully baked, with a complete execution plan and even KPIs. Anyone who needs to accept this new, wonderful idea wants to know what’s in it for them, and how it will affect their lives. This doesn’t mean that you don’t solicit feedback or input – of course you do – but you don’t discuss ideas, theories, or incomplete works in a way that concerns operational resources. Over-sharing will cause unnecessary concern, reduce open-minded discussion and possibly even sabotage the entire project. This may sound counter-intuitive to the “team first” mindset, but it’s not. Innovation needs to be planned and executed in a way that minimizes impact to existing operations. Rumors and innuendo will kill it. Build it in a lab, work out the bugs, and then test until you’re ready to share with a small group. Then, contain that as well – keep the testing environment small and manageable – and make sure your testers keep it zipped. If there’s a problem, you can fix it: you don’t need everyone running wild, sounding alarms (or your idea will quickly get the kibosh, simply out of fear).
3. Keep innovation manageable. Dare I say, even small? This way, you can harness the amount of impact at implementation. Instead of huge projects, go for more innovation, more often and over time. This strategy will produce much better results, and begin to build a culture that both expects and embraces innovation, because you’re building good things people can actually see and feel, without forcing a big hairy change. In this case, bigger isn’t always better.
4. If you want to think bigger, move it out of the box. (The box is your building). Steps 1-3 are meant for a smaller, more evolutionary method of innovation. For big innovation projects and revolutionary change, take it completely outside the company walls. Sure, use internal resources and/or acquire new resources, but place them in a subsidiary or in a fully funded entrepreneurial environment that screams innovation. Support them with a proven third-party innovator (company or person) who will challenge their thoughts, ask the right questions and provide the necessary expertise. This is a great way to create large-impact innovation (but still control the intellectual property), while maintaining the existing operational and cultural environment.
So, in a nutshell: be innovative with how you innovate. At Modern Impact we’ve created an environment that encourages innovation; one that other companies recognize the minute they walk through our doors for the first time. That’s why many companies move their most innovative and challenging projects outside their walls and inside ours.