Latest CB Insights report on corp innovation shows it takes 60% of the companies more or much more than a year to launch an idea or to create new product. The main reason: corps prefer to build everything themselves and from scratch. The results… Now, there are some corps that dare to look for external help,but still mess it. Philip who’s been acting as an entrepreneur for hire lately shares some valuable insights on where NOT to go after you see particular signs.
🧔🏻 Philip Baerfuss, managing partner ekom.agency:
My job is to come up with and then implement innovation and disruptive strategies and models to make corp dinosaurs act like unicorns. This set of stories unveil some wonderful “no go’s” that I came across. Here we go:
“Nice to meet you, please sit down. Now what is your innovative idea for us?”
Sometimes when I am introduced into corporations either by an owner, shareholder or someone important, I land in management meetings where the first question, after the usual formalities, is, straight up:
“So what is your idea for us?”
The usual answer is awkward silence from my side, because in my head I already wish I was somewhere else.
Do they think of me as a medium of some sorts, like if I magically had a vision during my sleep or while on the toilet and thought, “OK Philip, I have to call these guys up, meet them and say I saw this for your future.” I did try several times to answer the usual stuff like “I can find where you need to innovate”, but the companies that are not really willing to innovate will always follow up with,
“but do you have a tangible and precise solution for us?”
Often, they are not pretty aware of what they need to change, where’s a problem or challenge coming from but they all want to see results in spreadsheets. Of course, that’s the precise moment I start dreaming of some kind of magical algorithm software that I should be inventing with a magic eight ball feature that I shake and get some stupid random perfect answer. Sometimes I just end up giving an answer through a metaphor such as if they want me to provide an answer now, it is like being blindfolded in a field with a needle in one hand and having to find the equivalent sized needle hole where it should fit in.
Now seriously, the real problems
From my experience innovation is a process, and not a very fast one. It usually starts with understanding what the top brass want, goes through the customers needs and trends and then moving down the teams and employees. As intrapreneur you need to meet a lot of people and find out who is talented and not scared of change. And that is how I came to some conclusions on why are certain companies sooo resistant to innovation:
People around the table feel threatened 🤼😨
As an example in my last no-go meeting, some months ago, I was in front of a CEO and his marketing manager. The marketing guy looked like he was going to have a heart attack at any moment. I was even more stressed, being a certified rescue, that I would have to perform mouth to mouth to him. Usually I am focused on growing customer base, so I know that marketing guys don’t like me quite. Lucky for this guy, the boss explained me that the marketing was overworked, so we proceeded.
They don’t have time for innovation ❌⌚💡
Basically they see it as something useless and time consuming. These guys I name the titanic captains because today saying that innovation is time consuming equals to say that we should work on horse carriages rather than improving the roads for automated driving. Nd the problem is too simple – the executives are too focused on spreadsheets, numbers, deals etc. that they miss what the customer need.
They want their innovation to be perfect 💡💅💄
Very often corporations either have lost or never had the entrepreneurial spirit – come up with an idea, test, minimum viable product, validation, decision whether to proceed or pivot. They are more likely to spend shameless money and years on long perfectization of innovation or on PR around it, than really build something valuable.
Innovation is a process that first starts with research, and this is usually as simple as understanding what is the vision/direction of the company. Then you check whether the direction is innovative or not… because sometimes it actually is. Well, corporations usually have trouble implementing it, but that is for another story.
I can confirm that all my successes were with companies that gave me a testing period to come up with the most relevant innovation strategy tailored for them. In most cases that led me to continuing my mandate to implement this strategy. From what I’ve seen the companies that listen to entrepreneurs they hire and are bold enough to test and fail, are the ones that innovate. Informed decisions based on research and differentiation from competitors are the best direction down the road of disruption which will lead to innovative ideas.
If you have another interesting examples in mind, share them with us on firstname.lastname@example.org. Cheers!