7 Tips for Successful Corporate Innovation

If you’re not making something new your competitor is about to eat your lunch. This isn’t rocket science, but it is a reframe of the conventional iterate-to-sell-more M.O. of corporations past. There is nothing stopping challenger brands from innovating and technology means they can do it faster than ever. Intrapreneurship. Skunkworks. R&D. Whatever the chosen nomenclature, corporate innovation is essential for the future of any brand that wants to last.

Jeremiah Owyang outlined the 10 types of Corporate Innovation in a digestible brief that inspired me to share the lessons I’ve learned helping companies grow over the last near decade in the Silicon Valley. Corporate innovation is hard; but these seven tips should help you on your journey.

1) Don’t talk about “it” (it being the internal innovation team) until there’s something to talk about.

Talking about “it” ruins team morale outside of the innovation group, and it perpetuates the perception that an innovation group is superfluous/unregulated spending. Nobody likes the company who cried wolf, good or bad

2) Allow everyone to contribute to the wild ideas the innovation team can attack.

No one actually knows how best a technology can be applied when it is first created. We all have biases that make us blind to certain needs and potential solutions. Include everyone, even admin, in brainstorms, and make it clear it’s deliberate. While roles are necessary for hierarchy and the corporate machine to run efficiently, they’re actually not (and are instead rather elitist) when it comes to innovation. I’ve seen PA’s shape the future of products for big brands and interns sketch the designs of our future.

3) Have a space that’s safe for ideating.

It cannot be the same office, the same conference room the same anything. Those spaces are already pre-defined. They are constrained by the activities that have happened in them before. These spaces need to be void of the same rules that one finds in classic corporate structure. (I personally heavily advocate for swearing being allowed here, lots of art supplies, and booze).

4) Have a clear, commited stance on innovation.

“Innovation” gets thrown around by leaders like a football on a sunny summer day. Too often they use the word, but haven’t applied it literally or culturally. Saying that you are truly committed to making something different (even internally) versus iterating on our existing product line; and admitting that that process is going to be messy, is a pro-move in transparency.

5) Decide what you want to improve v. innovate.

To further emphasize my above point, it’s crucial that companies separate things they just want to make better and completely new ideas. In working a fair amount with companies who shall remain secret but likely made the device you’re reading this on, I’ve seen this dilemma happen time and time again. They WANT to make something new, or so they think, but after an extensive and awesome innovation cycle, inherently default to what is safe. This creates a perception internally that all innovation is wasteful and doesn’t lead to anything cool, which it could if they were less afraid.

6) Embrace and talk about about the new world order.

Host speakers on innovation that the whole company can listen too (sidebar: I love speaking and travel.) Things are constantly in flux and folks like you and I (and many leaders) are privy to the dialogue at the epicenter of this ever-shifting paradigm. By bringing this conversation to the forefront of your company dialogue, it lets people see the catalyst for innovation, it allows them to reframe the way they thing about their companies capabilities; and perhaps most importantly, hearing that what you’re doing is awesome from a third party is unbeatable for morale.

7) Modify your metrics.

You’re entering startup territory and you will fail 9 times out of 10 just like they do. You’re creating a new internal way of doing things AND a new product. It’s about to get messy. Measure on how well you’re solving user needs, not by how efficient your throughput is. To be honest, if you can manage to make one brand new thing and not royally Fuck up your culture the first 12–18 months you’re doing great.

Before founding Savvy Millennial, Savannah was the Director of Innovation Strategy at Speck Design. She would love to help you with your internal innovation strategy no matter where you’re at in the process.