A Survival Guide for Corporate Innovators


A Survival Guide for Corporate Innovators. Every organisation, be it for-profit, NGO, or social impact, can benefit from a maverick innovator for one simple reason: they obsess with creating value. Any corporate innovator worth their salt instinctively understands that innovation is about creating something new that creates value.

I’d like to clarify that both newness and value are relative! It’s enough that something is new to the organisation and the customers. Value must be bi-directional, i.e. the customer must have some benefit from the innovation at hand, and the organisation must be able to capture back some of the value.

Otherwise it won’t be an enduring enterprise.

Unfortunately, corporate innovators often struggle with progressing their idea within the organisation. Here are five pieces of advice, from my experience as an innovator and a consultant, that will help you navigate your organisation better:

  1. Over-communicate. Remember that people can’t read minds – yet. The idea in your head might be spectacular, but it is your responsibility to get it on paper and craft a story that resonates with others. Who is it for? What is it about? How does it relate to organisation’s strategy and direction? How would it change the lives of customers, employees, and other relevant stakeholders? Don’t just think about these questions! Answer them in multiple ways. Write, draw, speak. The more you do that, the more refined your idea will be, making it easier to explain to others.
  1. Pick your battles. Innovation is inherently uncertain. You can do everything right, and still fail. That’s why when it comes to corporate innovation, it’s more important to be aligned then 100% right. Talk about the big picture when presenting your idea, but ask for specific things you need to get it to the next practical step. For example, don’t ask for an eight figure budget to develop the whole thing, but for whatever is needed to test the demand or some other critical assumption.
  1. Execution is king. Do you know that venture capitalists primarily make their investment decision based on the strength of the team, and not the idea? The real work begins once you “sold” your idea to the organisation. Maximise your speed by always focusing on the riskiest assumptions in your idea. You can surface them by asking “What would need to be true for this to work as described?” Get a trusted peer and have them help you think through. Challenge your idea!
  1. Leverage support functions. As a corporate innovator you are most likely working in an organisation with multiple support functions: IT, legal, procurement, HR, and so on. They can be your greatest allies, if you know how to on-board them, that is. Don’t just jump straight into your idea, but open by explaining that you are primarily concerned with creating something of great value, without hurting the customer or damaging the company. Add that you would be grateful for honest and genuine feedback. If you do everything as I’ve suggested in the first point, you ought to be able to establish a healthy working relationship.
  1. Blow your horn. No one will promote your idea and successes but yourself. This isn’t about being selfish or egotistic, this is about informing people of how well your idea is developing and is being received. Corporate innovation involves a lot of experimentation, which in turn leads to generating reusable knowledge. The last one is a great asset to the company, but no one will know about it unless you speak up and share it.

A Survival Guide for Corporate Innovators

The above points will help you stand out as a corporate innovator that both wishes to do something new and exciting, while understanding and respecting the company. Consequently, that will make it much easier for you to get backing and support for your idea. 

I want to remind you that there is no perfect starting place. As the old proverb goes “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” In other words, pick any point above, and start right now.