Innovation labs, technology scouting outposts, and accelerator programs to invest in startups have become ubiquitous in large companies, as have regularly-scheduled hackathons or idea challenges that invite employees to develop and pitch new ideas. Yet, in some companies, all of that activity adds up to nothing more than “innovation theater.” In others, it actually yields a stream of internal improvements; new products and services; experiments with different business models; and investments in fledgling companies that are connecting with new customer segments. What’s different in these two groups?
If you’re investing in understanding how the world around you is changing, you also need to invest in the relationships and systems that will let you take quick action on what you find.
It turns out that the word “innovation” is not a Harry Potter-esque magical incantation that, once spoken, renders companies more inventive, creative, and entrepreneurial. The word can be uttered by a CEO speaking to employees or Wall Street analysts. It can be emblazoned on the door to a new innovation center in Silicon Valley. But there are thorny cultural, strategic, political, and budget issues that must be confronted by CEOs and other leaders if they want to ensure that their organizations can be hospitable to — rather than hostile to — new ideas.