Large, mature companies are struggling with innovation. They think back fondly to the days of their youth where experimentation was exciting, and ideas were plentiful. A stark contrast to today, where processes punish experimentation, and ideas are small and scarce.
They ache for change, but they don’t know where to start. Over time these companies have evolved into cost-reducing, risk-eliminating machines. While successful, their products only improve slowly and in predictable ways. They are stuck in a rut, and they can’t get out.
A leader at a company like this may dream of throwing caution to the wind and placing some big bets on risky projects, but most companies don’t have the appetite. The shift would be too dramatic. The CFO would get an ulcer. Companies like this need to move forward in a more measured way – with incremental innovation, guided by some lightweight processes.
Some say that process can stifle innovation, and I agree when it comes to companies who have mastered incremental innovation and are moving on to radical innovation. However, for companies who have been out of the innovation game for a while, light process has several advantages:
- Familiarity – large companies are already used to portfolio management processes, so they would be comfortable with something similar.
- Accessibility – an open process can ensure that anyone with an idea can be heard and perhaps even get to develop it.
- Standardization – processes can dictate the proper metrics and methods used with innovation experiments, which prevent good ideas from being killed off prematurely.
- Transparency – expectations can be set so that both successful and failed experiments will be praised and shared with the broader community.
Building (or re-building) an innovation program that is sustainable and effective is not easy, but by starting small with some structured, incremental innovation, you can figure out what works in your company. Once there, you can work your way up to the big leagues, where big risk can yield even bigger rewards and help create the industries of tomorrow.