What's The One Thing That Leads To Innovation Success In The Enterprise?

Context

We've run enough Bootcamps that a few patterns have emerged among different companies as they attempt to create disruptive innovations with the enterprise.

As our customers know, we aren't consultants. We are entrepreneurs

This means that we care deeply about having a positive business impact. Our startup studio continues building new technology startups for ourselves. Our innovation business continues to look for new ways to add value to established enterprises as they try to innovate like startups. Because we are both teachers and practitioners, we think this gives us a unique perspective on disruptive innovation.

The goal of our Three-Day Startup Bootcamp is to teach the principles of our proprietary methodology, Insight-Driven Iteration. Our Startup Accelerators are designed to apply these concepts to real growth projects and deliver a positive business impact. 

For us, a positive business impact is when the team follows a robust, customer-centric approach to defining and validating a scalable, repeatable business model and completes the project to its natural conclusion.

This doesn't mean every project is successful in creating an awesome business. That's just not realistic. Some ideas just don't pan out. Failure is part of the process and we should embrace the learning and insights that always come from failure.

Even when teams fail, they actually succeed. This is a big idea. Success is following a robust process to its natural conclusion. 

There is tremendous value to the enterprise in concluding a given idea isn't going anywhere. This conclusion, while not desirable on the surface, is really important because it frees up resources to work on other ideas, some of which are going to be great ideas. Without a natural purge of the idea pipeline, breakthrough ideas may never come to the surface.

So, whether the idea results in a new business or not, we define successful business impact as doing the work, validating problems, validating solutions, pivoting intelligently, uncovering new customer insights, driving the project to its conclusion and learning from the entire process. That's positive business impact. That's innovation success.

Case Study Analysis & Results

I recently caught up with executives and managers from four innovation teams that previously went through our Startup Bootcamp. I considered the different ways these teams were put together, in the hope of uncovering some insights on what leads to a positive business impact. 

Here are the dimensions I considered in the analysis.

  • Three-Day Bootcamp - I'm looking for teams that have successfully completed this program and learned the basics of lean startup and design thinking.
     
  • 90-Day Accelerator - This dimension describes whether the teams chose to participate in our Accelerator program. Of the four companies analyzed, two participated in our Accelerator, one did not and the fourth company ran their own Accelerator program without our help.
     
  • C-level or business unit leader as sponsor - A "Y" in this row means there was a senior c-level or business unit leader who was personally involved in innovation work, getting his or her hands dirty in the process. 
     
  • Approximate number of internal team members indicates how many internal employees participated in the process
     
  • Approximate number of external team members indicates how many external resources participated in the process
     
  • Demonstrable business impact is my opinion on whether the innovation team achieved this standard, as defined above.

Here are the results.

In reading this summary, several insights come to mind.

  • Both of the successful teams participated in an Accelerator, where they assigned dedicated resources to work on the innovation project for a period of at least 90 days. This makes sense as the purpose of the Accelerator is to deliver impact.
  • For the two companies who were successful, their innovation teams have been working for at least nine months and their work is continuing indefinitely.
  • An Accelerator is necessary, but not sufficient for innovation success. Consider the Global Heavy Equipment Manufacturer. They participated in a 90-Day Accelerator, but did not achieve a positive business impact. There appear to be other factors for success that go beyond just showing up.
  • One of the successful teams ran their own Accelerator, a dedicated team focused exclusively on one startup idea for at least 90 days. This shows that some companies can do this themselves and they don't need to hire an outside firm to facilitate the Accelerator.
  • External hires did not seem to be a requirement for success. 
  • Smaller teams of eight people or less may be more effective at delivering a positive business impact
  • The primary indicator of innovation success is having a C-level or business unit leader personally involved in the innovation project

These results are consistent with data elsewhere that suggest c-level involvement is imperative. If you are a senior executive, disruptive innovation is not something you can delegate.

The reason for this is that searching for a new business model is a very different process than what established companies normally do. Having a senior executive with a direct connection with the board, gives the team members the freedom and authorization to act differently. Without this air cover, innovation projects devolve into nothing more than innovation theater, resulting in inevitable failure.

Hopefully, we can remember these lessons the next time we assemble an innovation team to change the world.

Dave Linhardt