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  • AJ Boelens

Why corporate innovation ‘gets stuck’

As a seasoned corporate strategist and innovator, I have found that the problem with making corporate innovation happen is that things often ‘get stuck’. Here are some key reasons I have encountered:


Lack of alignment on how to make decisions on new ideas (ex: innovation phase gate)

Lack of effective and actionable market insights to drive customer centric innovation

Traditional incentives and KPIs of key stakeholders put them at odds with doing something new or working together (despite many leaders often agreeing that change is needed)

Lack of leadership alignment across silos to ‘activate’ the organisation to move in a certain direction. (Often each silo has it’s own ideas on what to do)


But here is what I find to be THE MOST critical deficiency.

A lack of organisational alignment on WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT PROBLEMS TO SOLVE, and what opportunities/constraints must be considered in the solution.


From experience, if these issues above are not resolved before you start innovating.. then the organisation is likely to ‘get stuck’ in a grey area where great ideas never move forward (or bad ideas don’t get killed early enough!). So why does this happen? Here is what I have seen.


1) Impatience

Sure it is super fun to start ideating, building rough prototypes, thinking of how tech can solve problems, etc... But what is the use of ideating if an organization and it’s customers aren’t aligned on what are the right problems to solve? This leads into the next point.


2) Creativity is key? No it is discipline

Many people associate innovation with being creative, and yes that is definitely a big part of it. However, what is even more important is discipline. This means diligently digging into the problem from various angles to holistically understand the problem(s), identifying how those problems interrelate (ie: root vs symptomatic problems), and clarifying what an ideal outcome would produce. Finally, it is then pulling this all together in a concrete and concise problem statement which ALL key stakeholders can agree to. In short, get the strategic sequence right.


3) Leaving out stakeholders

Many people driving corporate innovation, are unaware of all the ‘links in the chain’ that must be aligned in a matrixed organization before innovation can happen.

This is not uncommon as many people who are driving innovation have deep experience in a particular silo, and their success in that silo has lead them to a role as an ‘Innovation Manager’ or similar role. So your tech superstar, marketing guru, R&D wizard or customer experience champion is given the mantle to drive the company’s innovation efforts.

But the reality is that they can’t do it alone. They will need help, and I mean active and vested help from key stakeholders, to make things move forward. That is how large organisations work. So that tech superstar needs to get help from Marketing to get the right customer insights, or top executive support to help align the incentives amongst the key business unit or functional heads, or HR support to… etc...


The fact is that in the corporate innovation space, you are only as strong as your weakest link. (Sidebar: this is why I named my company Innovation Connected!). So if you don’t know what links are critical in your chain you are going to ‘get stuck’. Again this is why it is critical to understand who your internal and external stakeholders are, what their motivations and KPIs are, establish clarity on the problems to solve, and find ways to set up the organisation to move. This is hard work, it is not fun, but if you don’t set the foundation right all your creativity will be wasted on ideas that don’t get traction.


4) No framework to make group decisions

Take the time to gather your leadership team and get them to participate in defining a sort of Innovation Phase Gate. This would put in order all the criteria that should be assessed for both problems and concepts. Not only does leadership have a responsibility to clarify where the organisation should innovate, but also what are the criteria that will be used to process the fuzzy front end of innovation through to the launch of products/services/business models.

If you don’t know what this process and criteria look like you will likely ‘get stuck’ at some point.


CONCLUSION

Driving corporate innovation is not easy. Innovation takes alignment, getting the strategic sequence right, and anticipating and removing the barriers to organisational dysfunction. This creates a ‘safe zone’ for innovation which you can start with.


If you are a corporate innovator based in Singapore, a few of us corporate innovators have created a group called Innovators United which you can join. While there is a plethora of communities to support start-up innovators and entrepreneurs, we haven’t found one for corporate innovators. Our goal is to create a platform where we can share our successes and failures, learn about new concepts and tools, and make connections with like minded professionals. PM me if you are interested in joining and please note that there is a vetting process to ensure we have experienced and relevant members who can add to the network.

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