Forces that Thwart Innovation: Part III – Immune System

Blog Post Innovation that Creates New Value

In our previous post, we discussed how to unhook yourself — and your company — from the forces of corporate gravity in order to get big ideas off the ground.

But through the course of our innovation consulting work, we’ve learned that even the ability to interject feasibility into big ideas can be a lost cause if a corporation’s immune system prevents the objectives from taking hold.

Just as your body has an immune system — solely focused on identifying and eliminating any potentially harmful foreign objects — so too do corporations. Corporate immune systems are the processes and procedures that protect the existing business from (what it deems to be) the potentially damaging effects of innovation.

Diagnosing Immunity

To spotlight how corporate immune systems work on the macro level, for example, let’s look at the way projects commonly get funded within organizations.

Typically, departmental teams will establish a business case — one that illustrates feasibility and ROI — within a defined set of criteria that is familiar to those who approve budgetary spending.

…“An investment of X today will yield Y in six months.”

Therefore, the projects that do get approved for funding are almost always aligned with the current operating structure. Unfortunately, this model doesn’t allow for very innovative initiatives to be developed since, with innovation, you often can’t prove feasibility off the bat or return on investment may be delayed beyond what’s considered acceptable.

Innovation ROI

But this is not to say innovation can’t be tracked — merely that the metrics for measuring innovation should be amended to fit the scope of the project. This means organizations may need to:

  • Rethink some of the systems to suit long-term goals of innovation
  • Not force innovation projects to meet the same criteria as a core business projects
  • Dedicate some part of the budget to innovation (typically R&D budgets, but not always)

Regardless of the particular metrics you decide on, thought must be given to the systems, procedures, and processes currently in place, and if they support innovation. Otherwise, you risk exposing your innovation project to very hardy corporate immune systems.

Once you’ve armed yourself with the antibodies (i.e., innovation-friendly ROI metrics) to bypass overzealous corporate immune systems, it’s time for a vision check — in particular, to make sure your organization isn’t suffering from corporate myopia — which is the topic of our next discussion.