When it comes to innovation, swarm…don’t run!

What is the first thing that happens when a crowd senses a disruption: They tend to run in the opposite direction.

In far too many cases, the same is true about disruptive innovation in government and private enterprises. Organizations try to limit the risk by keeping the damage in surrounding areas to an absolute minimum.

History tells me this scattering effect is one of the key reasons why innovation (disruptive or evolutionary) fails — or never happens at all in angst-ridden enterprises. Few understand that swarming the innovation is less dangerous than running from it in fear of the shrapnel associated with expense and failure.

In my experience, businesses love to create the illusion of having a culture of innovation, even if only situationally as opposed to culturally. Unfortunately most really see innovation as the equivalent of starting a bonfire with flint and some scrap paper.

Here are a few examples:

Innovation via the Corporate Mission Plaque in the Lobby

One of the most universal innovation illusions is putting a phrase similar to “culture of innovation” on the corporate mission plaque in the front lobby, conference room and on the corporate website.

Unfortunately this phrase is simply the result of excruciatingly long debates in corporate mission task-force meetings, where success and creativity are judged by whether you say “innovative culture” or “culture of innovation.”

The Annual Sales Meeting Innovation Showcase

Once a year, many enterprises have their division managers stroll out their innovations at the worldwide sales or executive management meeting. Great pains are taken to keep these presentations short and crisp in an attempt to keep the main agenda on schedule.

The moderator usually closes the session by encouraging attendees to discuss specifics of the innovation with presenters during dinner or cocktail sessions. The ideas are shared with the rest of the company in the monthly employee newsletter. Potential users of the innovation are encouraged to contact the original innovator by email.

The Unmanaged Innovation/Best Practice Intranet Portal

One of the best ways to stimulate a temporary increase in innovation-sharing is to deploy a large social enterprise system. This investment does not necessarily stimulate innovation as much as it does the necessity to “feed the content/lead beast.” These efforts can fall flat if the online community and sharing process does not have a communications champion.

So how do enterprises drive organic innovation and promote the best and worst practices related to the initiatives?

  1. Disruptive innovation is driven by risk/reward structures. If taking reasonable risks is not baked into corporate values and culture, then employees will regard it strictly as a career- limiting risk with no reward. Compensation is part of the reward equation, but in many cases the thrill of career development and accelerated innovation can be drivers
  1. The most successful enterprise innovators will have a sense for pockets of innovation and then quickly direct targeted resources to assure that the effort does not become organizationally asphyxiated. These “SWARM” teams are comprised of the most agile members of corporate services teams, ranging from finance and marketing to manufacturing. They are experienced in parachuting into the startup and then extracting themselves to move on to the next launch. These are the equivalent of the vertical teams you’ll see during the ramp up of new retail establishments.
  1. Successful disruptive innovators feel that the experience, whether good or bad, results in critical corporate insights. Failures, even spectacular ones, can be documented and socialized in a formal manner to assure they are not replicated. This requires an innovation insight curator, one that shares mistakes and successes on channels such as Yammer or Chatter.

So how does your public or private sector enterprise direct special talent or swarms trained specifically for various stages of disruptive innovation?


Can replicating best practices stifle disruptive innovation?

Innovation in project management: Can it be done?


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