Big companies need to think and act like start-ups if they’re to survive the innovation disease, says Robin Bade, founding partner and European regional director of digital agency Mirum
Innovation is essential in today’s business environment, but the minute you hear that the HR department is trying to ‘foster a culture of innovation’ you may as well throw in the towel.
The current corporate innovation journey typically starts with the board setting vague objectives and non-measurable targets, after which expensive consultants are hired to implement a three-year plan that has no clear outcome.
And were the objectives achieved? Who cares? A thousand start-ups have been launched since you started ‘fostering’. You should have moved quicker.
The innovation disease
Innovation should be seen as a positive disease. It should incubate in small teams then spread to others. It should mutate, learn and develop, always adapting and infecting.
Innovation needs to be seeded in small teams because if you throw seeds at the masses they seldom catch them. This is typically the way corporations are going about it at the moment.
However, throw the seeds to a small group of people who are focused on catching and planting them, and they will grow into a blooming demonstration of the power of innovation. To do this, you should behave like a start-up or embed one in your firm.
The leadership problem
Part of the problem is leadership. Currently, companies are trying to break out of an old-school mindset – they think they can take as much time as they want when it comes to innovating.
But, we live in a disruptive world now. The democratisation of technology has meant it is cheap and manageable to develop and create new products and services.
Forward-thinking players realise they are under threat from leaner start-ups and that they need to be more disruptive when it comes to innovation.
Companies have to understand that the innovation challenge no longer sits with the tech side of a business. It pervades the boardroom and C-suite.
Consultancies made up of people with MBA backgrounds are not going to innovate. Instead, organisations need to align themselves with more challenging partners.
These people should be thinkers and makers, developers, designers and poets. I call it the ‘human soup’. Blending different personae – people who will complement and challenge one another – creates an outsider’s view of the problem, which in turn will lead to more ‘real’ solutions.
On a macro level, the likes of McKinsey and Deloitte are now buying design firms wholesale in order to appropriate a diverse skillset. At Mirum we embed our Lean Innovation Lab into client companies to start solving this innovation problem in a tight timeframe.
It’s a fixed-period, fixed-price, fixed-methodology programme where we take the ‘abandoned’ ideas left festering in Megacorps’ ‘Millennial Wing’ bin and turn them into working and marketable digital products or services within a month. The 30-day timeframe allows the client to buy into something focused, tangible and real.
In conclusion, you should focus on the end-user. If you become preoccupied with your own internal workings, you are diverting much-needed time and energy to yourself – and you’re not the buyer.
You don’t solve 2020s problems with 1990s methods, either. Remember talent is not the same as experience. Get in the kitchen and concoct that ‘soup’ that will turn the innovation disease to your advantage.