The anger that fuels my mission today surges from a speech I heard a year ago, in Las Vegas, in a packed conference hall. The keynote speaker opened with the line: “I have come to believe that large organizations cannot innovate. They produce ‘innovation antibodies’ that attack new ideas.”
You have an idea that will generate new profits for your company and make you even more of a hero. You can already feel the pats on your back and the industry keynote speech you will deliver, humbly explaining how you did it.
The world seems to have suddenly discovered a nirvana of agile prototyping. Some call it lean or lean start-up, some use human-centered design or design thinking, and you may even hear reference to agile or scrum. Whatever the name, the core message is the same: stop trying to build an idea (a business plan, product, marketing message) to perfection. Instead, conduct small experiments with your stakeholders to learn and improve.
The days when innovation was the sole responsibility of the chief innovation officer or corporate venturing group are over. Today companies are realizing they need to harness the innovative power of all their employees if they want to grow.
Here is the fundamental issue: innovation seems too risky. Your company says they want it. They hold innovation events, call “innovation” a top priority, and build internal innovation teams. But no one, even the most admired innovators, is confident their efforts are paying off.
This week, we convened innovation heads from places like Chubb Insurance, Estee Lauder and Macmillan and mixed them with a world-renowned innovation expert (Professor George Day from Wharton) and one of the leaders of GE’s Crotonville leadership training center (Bob Cancalosi). Over four hours, they teased apart our shared challenge: how to unlock innovativeness, entrepreneurship, and growth trapped inside organizations.
Every week I interview five to 10 innovators and innovation experts as part of my book project. Each time I ask the same question: In your experience, what are the greatest barriers to innovative ideas realizing their potential inside large organizations?
You’ve got the idea. You know it will work. If only you can move fast enough, keep up the pace of those younger, smaller startups. The opportunity should be yours but you worry that bureaucracy will slow you down.
Whether you come up with an idea on your own or a colleague shares it with you, you will invariably find yourself at a fork in your career road. Is this an idea worth pursuing?
I wrapped up 2014 with a flurry of mind-opening interviews. I spoke to everyone from Steve Blank, the man who invented the “lean” concept, to the man who first applied that concept in a major corporation (GE). I spoke to chief innovation officers and entrepreneurs responsible for some of the most memorable