If you’ve been following the last few articles, the theme has been exploring the unique endeavor of “entrepreneurship within large organizations” (aka “corporate entrepreneurship”), its challenges, and what it takes to get it right. Based on our experience of helping others and doing it ourselves, we’ve identified some key “best-practices” that are foundational to success.
So far we’ve covered:
(I encourage you to read these articles for context if you haven't already)
This time we’ll zoom-in on another critical success-factor–the critical importance of “Strategic Focus & Sponsorship” to guide the innovation funnel. Imagine an aircraft carrier (aka “large company”) about to embark on a voyage. It’s about to leave port and in less than one hour will disappear over the horizon… but to get to this moment in time, there’ve been weeks (if not months) of planning and strategizing–defining the mission, dictating the duration, supplies, crews, maintenance, etc. Clearly the main purpose of the aircraft carrier is to serve as a base/hub for targeted interventions–ex sorties of aircraft, deployment of special forces on speedboats, helicopter drop-offs etc–but all of these are consistent with the defined over-arching mission of the aircraft carrier.
The exact same is true with innovation-organizations in large companies. While they are “smaller missions operating off of the aircraft carrier” it’s very important for them to stay aligned with the overall mission. We believe this is paramount at two inter-related levels:
Top-Down Strategic Innovation Spaces/Agenda – the company has a strategy it is executing and needs specific innovation-support in targeted areas to help explore possibilities and new horizons beyond the scope of its traditional business. Since there’s a vast scope of potential horizons, clearly defining them is essential to ensure a strategy-driven innovation agenda (aka “strategic innovation spaces”, “priority domains,” or “areas of focus”). It’s the only way your “aircraft sortie” will actually make an impact toward the bigger mission and find its way back to the aircraft carrier. Without it you’re lost, wasting resources on “random targets,” demotivating your crew, and quickly losing relevance with the mother ship. Tangibly this means the C-suite’s involvement in selecting specific innovation-spaces (typically 3-5) to explore & fund, within which we will chose specific initiatives to experiment.
Bottom-Up Core Business Sponsorship/Buy-in – this one can be tricky (and sometimes controversial–since having enough autonomy is also very important), however, if no one in the core business is interested at the innovation-initiative-level, chances are high you’re creating “innovation-orphans” also known as the “innovation island of abandoned toys.” It’s the “cool but useless (CBU)” stuff that may be a breakthrough to us, but has no chance of survival back in the real world of the core business (no interest, resources, too far removed from the core, etc.). Even though you’re flying the mission, somebody back at the aircraft carrier has to care, provide support, and be deeply invested in the outcome. This means core-business sponsorship at the initiative-level, both at the beginning of the process (“push”) and continued “skin-in-the-game” (“pull”) for the initiative coming back out of the innovation funnel (management sponsorship, money, people, time, access to customers, exposure—connecting back to the core).
So as you think about how your innovation efforts fit to the strategy of your company, ask yourself:
What can you do to make sure you’re playing an essential role to enable that strategy?
What are the specific innovation-spaces that have been chosen (have they even been selected)?
How do you show a direct line of relevance to them?
On the other end of the spectrum:
How do you make sure the individual initiatives you’re working on demonstrate a direct line of relevance to these innovation spaces, and the core business?
How do you ensure and preserve core-business sponsorship from beginning-to-end throughout the innovation process to maintain buy-in and avoid adding to the “island of abandoned toys”?
Photo courtesy of: Pinterest
(also published on my personal blog at www.johannesmutzke.com)