Teaching Large Organizations How to Innovate

Reading Scott Kirsner’s article titled 11 Ways Big Companies Undermine Innovation (http://goo.gl/kaZFxX) brought up a number of thoughts and memories. Some of these memories support Scott’s observations and coincide with his experience. Some others, however, conflict with them. Being an eternal optimist, I tend to focus on the experiences that create a positive outcome and not dwell on those that did not work out well. “Just learn from them and move on” is my typical thought process.

Basically, I believe that large organizations have inherent advantages to be innovative. I wrote about these advantages in a few earlier blog articles (http://goo.gl/tlEU4m, http://goo.gl/UpKVGZ). This time, I want to share a few experiences. Due to confidentiality of some of the information, I will not go into much detail or reveal names of organizations.

One of my most successful initiatives was in a large organization, which operated in North America with approximately $2B annual revenues. The initiative was major both by my client’s and industry standards. It involved defining a business model and business operating system that was new to the industry, creating a place for this business system in the industry eco-system and launching a new business within this organization. This company did quite a few things right. I will share here the most important ones:

  • A clear definition of what success looks like was developed in the early phases of the initiative. The leaders of business, who brought me in, did not dump the work on me. Instead, they stayed involved and focused when I made them go through exercises to clearly define what success meant. Fortunately for me, they were already in the right mindset.
  • Commitment of resources and attention was at the highest level. After the definition phases, where leaders were intimately involved, one of the top leaders of the company remained as the sponsor of the initiative until the launch of the new business. He ensured that appropriate resources that I identified were available to the initiative, when needed. When internal resources were not available, he helped secure external skills without delay.
  • In a Skunk Works model, I was given significant leverage (or, enough leash to hang myself) in the organization. I created my own team of development, operated under my own conditions and bent rules in many occasions.
  • Early trials (alpha, beta, pilot, etc.) and learning from them were fully supported. “Try and learn” concept was contrary to the culture of this organization. Still, the leaders were open to a new way (to them) of doing things internally. Once they saw early benefits, they fully supported later market tests.

I welcome your comments on my blog. Please share this posting if you find it helpful. If you have any questions, comments or thoughts, I would love to hear from you.

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