How To Innovate Within a Successful Company
If you’re trying to innovate within a successful company, I have one word for you: Don’t.
You can’t compete with the successful business teams that pay the bills because paying the bills is too important. No one in their right mind should get in the way of paying them. And if you do put yourself in the way of the freight train that pays the bills you’ll get run over. If you want to live to fight another day, don’t do it.
If an established business has been growing three percent year-on-year, expect them to grow three percent next year. Sure, you can lather them in investment, but expect three and a half percent. And if they promise six percent, don’t believe them. In fairness, they truly expect they can grow six percent, but only because they’re drinking their own Cool-Aid.
Rule 1: If they’re drinking their own Cool-Aid, don’t believe them.
Without a cataclysmic problem that threatens the very existence of a successful company, it’s almost impossible to innovate within its four walls. If there’s no impending cataclysm, you have two choices: leave the four walls or don’t innovate.
It’s great to work at successful company because it has a recipe that worked. And it sucks to work at a successful company because everyone thinks that tired old recipe will work for the next ten years. Whether it will work for the next ten or it won’t, it’s still a miserable place to work if you want to try something new. Yes, I said miserable.
What’s the one thing a successful company needs? A group of smart people who are actively dissatisfied with the status quo. What’s the one thing a successful company does not tolerate? A group of smart people who are actively dissatisfied with the status quo.
Some experts recommend leveraging (borrowing) resources from the established businesses and using them to innovate. If the established business catches wind that their borrowed resources will be used to displace the status quo, the resources will mysteriously disappear before the innovation project can start. Don’t try to borrow resources from established businesses and don’t believe the experts.
Instead of competing with established businesses for resources, resources for innovation should be allocated separately. Decide how much to spend on innovation and allocate the resources accordingly. And if the established businesses cry foul, let them.
Instead of borrowing resources from established businesses to innovate, increase funding to the innovation units and let them buy resources from outside companies. Let them pay companies to verify the Distinctive Value Proposition (DVP); let them pay outside companies to design the new product; let them pay outside companies to manufacture the new product; and let them pay outside companies to sell it. Sure, it will cost money, but with that money you will have resources that put their all into the design, manufacture and sale of the innovative new offering. All-in-all, it’s well worth the money.
Don’t fall into the trap of sharing resources, especially if the sharing is between established businesses and the innovative teams that are charged with displacing them. And don’t fall into the efficiency trap. Established businesses need efficiency, but innovative teams need effectiveness.
It’s not impossible to innovate within a successful company, but it is difficult. To make it easier, error on the side of doing innovation outside the four walls of success. It may be more expensive, but it will be far more effective. And it will be faster. Resources borrowed from other teams work the way they worked last time. And if they are borrowed from a successful team, they will work like a successful team. They will work with loss aversion. Instead of working to bring something to life they will work to prevent loss of what worked last time. And when doing work that’s new, that’s the wrong way to work.
The best way I know to do innovation within a successful company is to do it outside the successful company.
Image credit – Pixabay
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Mike Shipulski brings together people, culture, and tools to change engineering behavior. He writes daily on Twitter as @MikeShipulski and weekly on his blog Shipulski On Design.
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