From Buzzwords to Traction: A Case for Tools to Achieve Innovation at Scale

There is no better place for innovation to happen than in large, established companies. They have what startups could only dream of: experienced talent, access to capital, relationships with partners, established customer bases, droves of IP, and manufacturing capabilities just to name a few. They also typically have big aspirations to reinvent themselves, keep up with emerging trends, and successfully apply new technologies in ways that make a meaningful impact to their business. But, why is it often such a struggle for large companies to deliver real results in their efforts to innovate?

Leaders in these large companies know that innovation requires a different behavior, mindset, and structure to be successful. They know they need to equip the organization and manage the change that needs to occur. But, too often, these leaders see innovation initiatives flame out because they lack the fuel to overcome the internal resistance that inevitably comes with something new. Opportunities aren’t supported, resourced, prioritized, and protected in the way they should be and therefore, create a litany of over-hyped, under-delivered projects. As digital tools are being applied to more parts of business, it is the right time to consider how to apply digital technology to accelerate a solution to this problem.

The Time Is Now

Innovation is no longer something to be dabbled in; it is an imperative at the core of what it takes to flourish in today’s context. Large companies are under pressure to increase the speed and efficacy of building a portfolio of new, transformative ideas, as well as stay on top of what is next in their industry. The “innovator’s dilemma” has turned into the “incumbent’s nightmare” (as referenced in my colleague Peter Bryant’s article here) where large companies have been dealt what feels like a lose-lose hand of cards. However, aspiration can be turned into reality if large companies utilize something that smaller startups typically do not: tools.

Tools reinforce the behaviors needed to win and meet the market pressure. They help leaders actively manage their portfolio, stay on top of emerging market trends (e.g., autonomous vehicles), improve collaboration and provide concrete assessments on where they are and where they need to go. These tools will accelerate activities, significantly enhance a team’s productivity, drive a consistent approach and provide the necessary level of systemization to make innovation impactful. Over the past decade, there have been several attempts at using tools for innovation.

Tool Attempt #1: Copy and Paste

The first natural attempt by large companies was to apply the tools of the core business to innovation. A client, President of a large industrial manufacturer, once said, “The tools we’ve needed to manage our core business are much different than the tools we need to grow the business.” We completely agree. Whiteboards, Excel, PowerPoint, project management solutions, etc. are all wonderful tools (after all, we are consultants). However, they are not optimized to deliver results on new ideas at scale. Innovation thrives on transparency, organizational alignment, rapid experimentation, and expedited decision making. Startups can demonstrate those characteristics easily because they are all sitting around the same table (literally). Large organizations have had trouble given the breadth of their organization, and we don’t blame them for it.

Tool Attempt #2: It's All About Tools

Well-intentioned software companies have made several attempts during the crowdsourcing rage, and they have served a purpose. Unfortunately, they have not delivered the intended outcome of predictable output because the functionality assumed that large companies only lacked a way to collect ideas from employees. And by doing that, they would uncover golden opportunities ready to be developed. This sounds right in theory but does not play out that way in reality because the ideas lack context, process, and organizational buy-in. We’ve discovered that for innovation to work, a company needs to behave the right way from the start of the innovation journey all the way to the finish. Collecting ideas is just one stop on the journey.

Third Time's the Charm

Innovation is a journey and the tools used for innovation should reflect that. There needs to be a clear, mapped out framework for “how innovation gets done” at the company that is connected to the right set of tools to ensure structure, guidance, and common practice for everyone, everywhere. It feels chaotic and disjointed without it. Also, ideas are important, but they are the output (not the input) of the right behaviors. The right tools need to start first with a diagnostic to assess innovation culture and capabilities, then help teams align on their perspective on key market forces driving change, then help companies make faster decisions on what is important and why, and then finally establish a way to collect ideas (within that broader context) and rapidly experiment with them to obtain learning that informs action. Clareo has recently released our own suite of software with this approach. It is built on our proven methodology, FastPath, that has helped large companies think and act in a fresh way the empowers them to get innovation done and create new paths for growth.

The Point

Innovation at scale is possible. Tools introduce structure. Structure forms behavior. Behavior builds capability. And, capability creates outcomes - sustainably. If big companies start delivering breakthrough results at scale, startups don’t have a chance to keep up. As our colleague, Prof. Rob Wolcott says, “Big and fast always beats small and fast.” It might be time for you to pick up the pace.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

From Buzzwords to Traction: A Case for Tools to Achieve Innovation at Scale

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