Just why are big companies taking this route? What’s wrong with innovation generated in house? Have big companies simply lost the knack of innovating and developing new products themselves – or did they never have the skills in the first place?
"In many corporate structures, innovation is born into a very inhospitable environment"
Whatever the reasons are, and of course they will vary from company to company, it’s easy to be seduced into thinking that by establishing an incubator or lab you have ticked the box marked ‘innovation’. Simply establishing a lab or in-house start-up is only the first step.
I have come across many in-house ‘labs’ both client side (and, let’s be honest, on the agency side too) that live in a beautiful silo, doing interesting work and funky little projects, but that are ultimately unable to make a meaningful impact on the corporate juggernaut around them.
Incubators are all the rage rights now
This is because creating innovation is one thing, but adopting innovation is another thing entirely. The challenge for big corporates is as much about integrating and adopting innovation than generating it.
How do you get a successful pilot to spread throughout the parent organisation and on-board new products, methods and approaches into the core business without killing or stifling the innovation itself?
Innovation as a discipline or culture is incredibly hard to embed within businesses. There are barriers everywhere, from corporate culture to human nature. These range from finance teams imposing standard accounting models of success, to wider innate human behaviours such as resistance to change.
In many corporate structures, innovation is born into a very inhospitable environment.
Innovation can’t just be about blue sky thinking over a ping-pong table and brainstorms on bean bags – remember Edison’s quote that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration?
Landing a meaningful innovation that changes your business requires rigour, discipline, and a methodology for managing change. The key attributes required are passion, persistence, communication and resilience. It needs senior stakeholder support, combined with activism at grass roots.
So while I welcome the efforts of big corporations to innovate – and partner with the wonderful ecosystem of start-ups and incubators that exists today – the mere presence of an innovation lab must not be seen as ‘it’s ok, we’ve got that covered’. Innovation itself will fail, without the widespread culture of adopting it.
Okay guys, we got the beanbags - now what?
We need to empower innovation teams, whether in house or through partnerships, by bringing them out of the corner, and placing them at the heart of the business. It’s also equally important to encourage a company-wide behaviour that innovation is a commitment and therefore everyone’s responsibility. Whether it’s creating ideas or seeing them through, the onus should not solely fall on one team to repeatedly produce something new.
I was reminded the other day of the famous memo that Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, issued shortly before he retired, when he saw the potential havoc the internet could wreak on the company unless it adapted to the internet age. He urged his employees to ‘destroy your business’, as a means to generate new approaches to ensure long-term survival.
So perhaps it isn’t really about innovating, perhaps it’s about destroying.
So go on, have a go. Think about how you can destroy your business today. That’s what I’m off to do.