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The Holy Grail of Successful Corporate Innovation

Many corporate leaders hire external consultants for advice on HOW innovation teams shall be structured, or what processes they shall follow. However, I believe relying on external expertise for such advice may not be the most effective use of corporate funds, because innovation is not something that should be imposed in a form of a declaration or rulebook from the outside. Unfortunately, this is a very popular approach, which I am afraid, has more chance to stifle and suffocate corporate innovation, than to inspire and invigorate it.

What is the secret recipe for successful innovation then, if it may not be something that can be easily imported, outsourced, prescribed, or bought off the shelf? The answer is not that simple, despite what an army of consultants, from the Innovation Industrial Complex, keep telling us.

Most organizations, large and small, still continue to struggle with the quality of their innovation outcomes, regardless of significant investments in fancy digital factories, startup-like space designs, and centralized enterprise innovation management tools.

Give them freedom

Successful and purposeful innovation, regardless whether it is ‘BIG I’ or ‘small i’, is not possible without the combination of creativity and deep subject matter expertise. The most successful innovators in any corporation are creative and highly motivated people, who are recognized experts in the fields they focus on improving. They invest significant time, often outside regular office hours, on constant learning and thinking about the next customer irritant and friction point and the most elegant and cost-effective way to remove it. In doing so, they create value for the organization.

All truly innovative teams are also proven to be the best incubators and retainers of internal talent, capable of true democratization of innovation across the enterprise. They inspire others.

Shouldn’t we then, as executives and managers, start trusting and empowering such capable and already motivated people, by giving them enough freedom to define the optimal structure and organization for their teams, and let them choose what tools and processes to use, rather than trying to impose those on them? I believe that true innovators expect to be trusted and empowered with as much autonomy as possible.

The management role is still important

Does that mean that management and external consultants have no role in nurturing and influencing corporate innovation journeys? Absolutely not. Management of innovation (regardless of whether it’s centralized or not) is a very critical component and enabler of success, by:

  • Identifying strategic areas for focused and purposeful innovation

  • Defining success criteria for each strategic area

  • Allocation of proper budgets

  • Maintaining a healthy pipeline of ‘BIG I’ and ‘small i’ ideas within each strategic area and deciding the priorities in which those ideas shall be executed

  • Coordinating cross-collaboration and sharing ideas within the organization

  • Celebrating successes and learnings from ‘failures’ (if such a thing even exists)

  • Supporting democratization of innovation mindset across the organization

  • Identifying opportunities for external collaborations and partnerships

But that’s about where the role of non-intrusive and smart innovation management should pretty much end. That’s exactly what smart organizations have been doing for years with great success and pride. The ultimate goal of every company is to have everyone in the organization behave as a true innovator.

So, instead of trying to impose too much control, you shall start trusting, empowering, and carefully listening to your true and proven corporate innovators and their teams and simply let them do their job – I am sure they will feel very encouraged and pumped up to happily return the favor by blowing your mind with amazing results.

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