Innovating in large companies has always been difficult. Senior leaders flock to innovation, but they have to meet their quarterly goals in established business operations. So how can large companies that get their resources from existing and established lines of business, with a proven profitability rate, find the resources to nurture innovation internally and pursue it with the same consistency and rigor? For a long time, the traditional approach involved hiring consultants to come up with a great new idea only to shelve it later on because it required too much management attention. Dave Blakely, at Mach 49, is taking on a different approach. Dave follows a three-step approach to making innovation happen.
I/ Phase number one: qualitative analysis
First of all, Dave and his partners at mach49 meet with Senior Leaders at the client company as well as operationally-focused people working hard in the field. He also connects with individuals that are part of the company’s ecosystem, such as:
- the shareholders
- distributors and suppliers
At the end of this first phase, there’s a general understanding of critical issues that need to be address. There’s also an understanding of the opportunity that lay ahead.
II/ Step two: making ideas bloom
At this stage, Dave organizes three-day « Blitz » workshops with a number of people from all levels in the company, from managers to front-line sales people. He also includes outsiders who will provide fresh points of view. The crowd is broken into several different groups, the goal being to produce as many ideas as possible. At the end of the three-day session, a vote is meant to spot the top five or so ideas.
These five ideas may lead to 3 different investment decisions:
- senior leaders may decide to acquire a company that has made of business out of one of these five selected ideas
- senior leaders may decide to develop one of these ideas into a prototype within the company
- senior leaders may decide to create a startup, which could spin-off from core business
III/ Dave’s third way
In the third case, a group of innovation driven team members is formed and sent to the Silicon Valley. There, they follow a 12-week program that is meant to get to a quick start. During this three-week period, they tried to address three fundamental questions:
- Desirability: Do people really need the innovation? The intrapreneurs begin by conducting qualitative dialogs with a large range of stakeholders. They quickly produce simple prototypes to evaluate the desirability of a new product or service.
- Feasibility: Can we build it? Is the idea technologically feasible? The team works with engineers and other technologists to assess the risk areas of the design. They then develop a plan to mitigate those risks with analysis, prototyping, and iterative testing.
- Viability: Can we make money with the idea? In other words, what’s the business model? In assessing viability, the team creates a high-level business model canvas that demonstrates interactions between stakeholders and flow of funds. They also articulate the business strategy, conduct competitive research, and create initial financial models.
IV/ Turning the client into the Innovator
What I find particularly interesting in this approach to corporate innovation is that the client is at center stage. The client is the innovator, not the consultant. Dave informed me that this leads to superior client involvement in innovation projects. However, considering that innovation is not the core business of any established company, Dave also organizes « mothership management sessions ». During the sessions, he tries to understand how to sell innovation the senior leaders. At the same time, Dave explains what senior leaders can expect from innovation. Dave pointed out to me that 50% of a team’s effort can be expended on « mothership management ».
So there’s a kind of dual role:
- one with the innovators that are working in corporate backed-up startup
- another with senior leaders that our financing innovation
To sum up, making innovation happen in large Global 1000 fortune companies doesn’t require writing a long research paper on innovation opportunities. Developing corporate innovation means coaching managers in identifying critical issues, generating ideas, incubating startups.