When innovation initiatives succeed, leaders immediately want more. While this is encouraging for innovation teams, it presents them with the dual challenge of scalability and funding.
Writing for Strategy+Business, Robert C. Wolcott and Jørn Bang Andersen explain how they have spent a decade exploring innovation initiatives across various industries, witnessing promising examples falter because of one or both of these obstacles.
However, they are confident they have discovered five reliable ways to overcome the challenges.
1) Replicate proven models. Innovation teams can scale up through replication. However, the authors point out that some models replicate better than others. For example, an initiative tends to be difficult to scale through replication if it is complicated or reliant on a few key individuals.
Therefore, if you choose to replicate an initiative, define a model based on core principles and make sure there’s easy access to leadership and mentorship.
An example of scaling through replication is provided by TED, the invitation-only conference held in California every year for sharing “ideas worth spreading”. The organisers scaled the programme through leveraging the global community of “TEDizens”.
Wolcott and Andersen explain that through the launch of TEDx, a licensing platform offering individuals and organisations access to the TED brand, methodology and global community, TED was able to spread its model to thousands of events worldwide, with individual licensees curating them.
2) Invest in areas with broad potential that provide options. Wolcott and Andersen suggest leaders ask the following questions when considering where to invest:
• If my core hypothesis fails, will the investment still provide other paths?
• How wide a range of industries or applications will this investment apply to?
• What new capabilities does this investment create for the company, and what else can they be applied to?
3) Recruit and support evangelists. Wolcott and Andersen believe employees can be evangelists, expanding an innovation initiative’s impact inside an organisation.
For example, in 2009, Kraft Foods established a cross-company Global Technology Council (GTC) to identify and invest in technologies capable of creating a competitive advantage. A portfolio of investments was created over two years, from affordable products for developing markets to cutting-edge packaging.
Coming from various product categories and geographies, GTC members were picked for their acumen and interest in enhancing Kraft’s innovation. As well as contributing insights, the group built “a sense of ownership” for the decisions made, promoting the long-term investments within their functions and markets.
4) Nurture internal and external ecosystems. Too many innovation teams operate in isolation and when they do interact, it’s with people who don’t always have an active interest in the success of the team.
Wolcott and Andersen believe an ecosystem is required, drawing comparisons with the world of startups.
They explain: “The startup world understands the power of ecosystems. Proven models like Techstars and Y Combinator select startups through a competitive process, then connect them with mentors, potential partners, investors and team members during an intensive, facilitated process. The startups become part of a set of dense relationships among players who were critical to their success.”
In fact, GE’s Innovation Accelerator adapts this ecosystem notion for a corporate environment.
Innovation Accelerator director Viv Goldstein told Wolcott and Andersen: “The coaches and advisory panel help us build an ecosystem of partners into our process. They challenge our GE assumptions and offer our innovation teams access to a wider world.”
5) Activate broad networks. While ecosystems enhance relationships and active commitment, more general networks provide wider access to diverse knowledge and capabilities, observe the authors. “Socialising” the objectives and challenges of the team through broad networks increases the potential for discovering opportunities and solutions.
Wolcott and Andersen explain that communities of innovation leaders have been created over the last ten years.
For example, founded in late 2010, Innovation Excellence has built a network of over 5,000 innovation practitioners and thought leaders. As an open community, Innovation Excellence offers “broad access to the innovation arena” and members can actively contribute and offer potential solutions.