It’s been 15 years and I still vividly remember the moment when one of our very first clients killed off a multi-million-dollar idea. They were a leading global logistics company, getting excited about the opportunity to operate shipping ports. The conversation heated up, the possibilities … the brilliance … the potential!
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.
I’ve been thinking lately that it all comes down to one question: What’s it worth?
Were the nights away from my kids, years invested in school, midnight sessions hammering away on my next book as I built my consulting business worth it? Was the time you invested selling, stressing, persisting as you built your business worth it?
You know you are an entrepreneur at heart, but you find yourself working inside a large organization. How do you cope?
“If you don’t like your job, quit.” This is part of the manifesto of holstee.com, one my favorite entrepreneurial companies, and is perfect for a conversation I am having with the head of strategy of a large financial services technology firm. We are in his office overlooking Park Avenue in Manhattan. He’s laying out for me some of the challenges faced by a growing number of firms that are trying to inject a more innovative, entrepreneurial spirit into their cultures.
“If only I worked at Google,” he lamented. At Google you get 20% of your time to explore new ideas, failure is not only tolerated but celebrated, and the company supports the kinds of long-term projects that most companies shun.
I am playing a game. My goal is to interview 10 innovators every week as part of my new book project. Each time I learn something, but every now and then I hear a story that opens up an entirely new perspective.
My friend and client Doug is one of those rare crossbreeds of seasoned entrepreneur and capable big-company operator. A mathematician by training, he spent 18 years with a small company moving from engineering to sales, then joined a start-up that grew 40% per year for seven years before selling to Raytheon. An acquisition or two later and he found himself in a senior role at one the largest engineering companies – and one of the largest companies period – in the world.