How to succeed with innovation in established companies

Ten years ago I did my masters thesis on innovation capabilities in established companies. Since then I have been working with innovation the last ten years in various organizations. How naive I was when I was looking at innovation from an academic perspective. A lot of theory is focused on idea management, innovationstrategies, business models and processes. The truth is that what could have been brilliant innovations often end up as merely incremental improvements that act as artificial respiration for dying business models.

Looking back at the combination of my theoretical background combined with several years of practical experience, I will try to summarize some of my experiences in three vital steps.

Educate. Communication is a powerful tool for establishing a shared vision of the future. No one really likes change, that is a part of human nature. it is therefore imperative to establish an understanding of why change is necessary. Culture should never be underestimated. By now, most are familiar with the somewhat over-used term “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. A constant reminder of why is a powerful tool in order to create a culture for innovation and willingness to change. This was actually my main reason to start blogging. Knowledge is most valuable when it is shared.

Evaluate. When you agree upon how you view the world and plausible scenarios for the future, it is time to see how your organization fits in to that vision. What are your key assets, and do they represent an unfair advantage. At this point prioritization is key. Where should you dare to cannibalize excisting revenue streams in order to secure a future position. This is a good opportunity to eliminate established truths and obsolete assumptions, as the goal of the evaluate-phase should be to create a truly objective understanding of where you stand as a business. The alternative is to continue believing in an inflated self-image. Blockbuster stayed true to the latter approach to the end.

Execute. I often emphasize that a vast majority of my time is dedicated to change management. Both by actively participating in strategic projects, as well as stay close to the everyday business. However, the most valuable assets when innovating from within is the innovation champions.  The champion need to inherit a number of qualities in order to succeed. An innovation champion needs to be confident enough to act as a shit umbrella and protect the team from internal politics and struggles. The champion needs to be structured in an unstructured environment, as well as able to constantly look for out-of-the box solutions to unforseen problems. The champion also need to be stubborn enough to never give up for the wrong reasons, but at the same time possess enough integrity and introspection to let things go for the rigth reasons. When you identify your champions, never let them go.

Repeat. Innovation and change management is no one-off in a digital world, but must be considered as a continuous process. Chances are that you will fail at least once. It is therefore important to have an acceptance for failure, as well as a feedbak-loop to make sure you learn from those mistakes. The alternative is to do nothing and slowly fade into obscurity.


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