There's a buzz and excitement that comes from generating ideas and starting something new. And it can be difficult not to get a little carried away with your innovative ideas and initiatives, regardless of whether you're a founder, a start-up or an established enterprise. But, lack of structure around planning and practical steps is regularly seen as a stumbling block and almost always impacts the bottom line.
Regardless of what we do or where we work, most of us are looking to generate value for a market and gain a competitive edge. Finding your path to what you consider successful is essential. But how do you arrive at that path?
I'll use an example you might relate to - a fast-growing business that used all the right words: inventive, innovative, disruptive. The company tried several approaches to innovation for the longest time but never managed to combine the various tactics consistently and well-controlled. Their problem was that they didn't have a framework to provide direction and identify specific and measurable priorities and outcomes. Come to think of it, there was almost none! And, where there was, the implementation approach was mostly to conduct ad-hoc experiments and identify success stories with lovely rose-tinted glasses!
So, if innovation is on your radar, here are some options to enable, discover, and create more productive, more innovative, and more sustainable pathways to success. But, I'll preface these with two reminders. 1. Do what's right for your business, and 2. Ensure your business promotes and embraces a culture of change.
Dedicated Team (Internal Innovation)
Innovation doesn't happen with an individual mindset. You need diversity in thinking; otherwise, your new ideas will falter or be consistent with "the way it's always been done". This is why some corporations have introduced cross-functional and multi-disciplinary groups across their business.
A low-cost effort is to start with building your innovation team from within. Dedicate existing employees who have shown to be champions of change to develop the strategy, managing, and activating innovation programs. While this is a great way to get started, it's often met with resistance due to internal bureaucracy and culture.
Intrapreneurial Programs (Internal Innovation)
An Intrapreneur program is led by someone within your organisation that actively promotes innovation. The idea of the program is to help explore ideas, provide resources and support to discover opportunities around anything from customer experience to product enhancements. And, should they show promise, open up opportunities to turn those ideas into reality. These are great initiatives designed to demonstrate your investment in your team's ideas and passions.
Similar to creating a dedicated Innovation Team, Intrapreneurial programs are only as good as the support, resources, and openness provided to them. If you don't have an authentic culture of change in your company, the money and time spent on these programs will all be for nothing. And, as frustrating as that may be, those involved in the program will likely head to environments and employers that do promote and embrace a culture of change and innovation. So, while you've pointed out entrepreneurial talents internally, you could very well end up losing them to your competition if the necessary support isn't in place.
Open Innovation & External Accelerators (External Innovation)
External innovation labs are new and essential in the evolution of corporate start-up relations. By partnering with innovators and planting themselves into the start-up ecosystem, companies can better identify and embed next-generation functionality into their products and services.
Managed and led by a third party, a corporate incubator aims to enable businesses to develop innovative ideas and launch new ventures in collaboration with start-ups or within a start-up environment. Think lean and agile! The third party leading the incubator focuses on innovation while the enterprise provides the resources and funds to launch those new ideas and ventures. By working together, they complement each other's strengths. Led by innovation professionals, external corporate incubators and accelerators foster relationships across the start-up ecosystem, providing corporates with the best value for money and overall success.
Innovation Tours (External Innovation)
Get outside and out of your comfort zone! Business innovations are often discovered outside of a company, and that's why as a leader, you should regularly visit new places and meet new people. Immersing yourself in a culture of innovation, learning from speakers, meeting partners, you will undoubtedly discover trends, new ideas to borrow from, and find you're inspired by different industries, people, and initiatives.
Innovation Outpost (External Innovation)
Think of an Innovation Outpost as your company's own external accelerator or incubator, except it's run by you and not a third party and is exclusive to your business and market. Usually requiring significant investment, Innovation Outposts are a great way to publically signify your dedication to innovation and improving your market. It also allows you to connect with start-ups that are equally focused on your market, to collaborate, share ideas, and jointly promote your mission and/ or objectives.
Investment & Acquisition (Internal/ External Innovation)
Many companies bet on the start-up ecosystem by funding early-stage ventures to create new opportunities and provide a competitive advantage. And, rather than investing in developing internal capabilities around innovation, many businesses choose to acquire promising start-ups or, in fact, external corporate innovation labs themselves and integrate those into their business. While cost-prohibitive for most, the acquisition of a start-up can prove to be the most successful as the purchasing company has the resources and finances to accelerate the start-up's growth and capture market share faster, and blocking competitors easier.
Your business will need to develop its own unique set of models in this dynamic and ever-changing business environment. An innovation model is not one-size-fits-all, and it may be that more than one model is best suited to your business and vision. At Spark, we've engaged with several enterprise customers in helping them best understand their needs and strategic directions around innovation. We look forward to further developing this support when we launch our corporate innovation incubator this Summer.