During the final days of 2016, the news that Coca-Cola shut down its Founders program caught many by surprise. It shouldn’t shock experienced trailblazers though as we embark on our innovation journeys into 2017. Transformation, after all, is a journey and not a destination.
As articulated quite effectively in this blog post, innovation is a beast that is difficult to tame—especially for large corporations. On one hand, there’s a well-oiled machinery composed of traditional businesses focused on substantially high profit margins. On the other hand, lurks some unknown, “never tried before” ideas that consume significant resources without offering any ROI guarantees. Where to balance and how to balance are dreaded questions facing almost all enterprises. And neither Coca-Cola nor Cisco are immune to those issues.
Here are some past, present, and future lessons that we can collectively reflect upon in 2017 to gain better control of our innovation strategies.
Focus on the past and perform a good, unbiased analysis of your innovation journey. It’s always valuable to understand what works and what doesn’t in big company contexts. Collect feedback from your teams on the biggest roadblocks and catalysts over the past year or so. Derive some “Do and Don’t” lessons from the past.
Think in the present on what you’d like to achieve in the coming year. Strategize on setting appropriate internal expectations for ROI and metrics around innovative projects. Socialize with stakeholders on resources allocated towards your innovation strategy. Think of a lightweight governance model around disruptive ideas.
Now, focus on the future and scrutinize whether the innovation is just a PR exercise or a real deal for your company. Are you and your company comfortable in being out of your comfort zone? Be brutally honest with yourself about how committed you really are when things don’t work out. And they won’t, at least 75 percent of the time.
As the world gets more competitive and complex, we need to be much more creative in shaping the innovation strategy itself. Cisco has been trying various ideas around making innovation more holistic and pervasive. These efforts include extending out build, buy, and partner strategy to include invest and co-develop elements. We also continue to focus on leveraging the creative wisdom of founders and entrepreneurs of acquired companies. And we’re even empowering employees to tap into their own “inner entrepreneurs” through internal innovation challenges geared for employees across all functions.
Bottom line: Anything new will never be simple and easy. The balancing trick is to be persistent with your innovation strategy while also keeping things flexible, experimental, and nimble. When the changes of innovation are so constant, there is no silver bullet!