Building resilient innovation requires to adopt new set of values !
Updated: Mar 31, 2021
Just let be honest, a Corporate Innovation Lab, at maturity is nothing more than a corporate venture fund. Its role is to source internal ventures, to staff, build and monetize with the goal to maximize value, targeting an IRR of 20% (VC benchmark). To be more precise its goal is to grow and scale the next generation of internal business.
When launching our Corporate Innovation Lab, five years ago, we had much of our focus on creativity, empowerment, collaboration and emphasizing learning from failure. We had a flat organization with lot of freedom to voice opinion. As a result we became extremely successful in attracting many of the creative and innovative profiles from within the company and they found in our workplace the environment they needed to work on ambitious and disruptive concepts.
In order to grow and scale those concepts, our business incubator was later designed and operating with discipline for recruiting high performers, progressing the maturity of our new ventures/projects portfolio and allocating next steps funding after reviewing facts and data. We dedicate for each new venture a project manager accountable to make best use of resource and take responsibility regarding potential pivots or project stops. Decision are driven by the data which leaves little room for interpretation and allow very pragmatic, rational and sometimes very critical discussions. Organized in a review board, our management team and portfolio manager are here to provide direction, governance and strategic focus.
You maybe have recently heard about Gari Pisano, Professor in Harvard and winner of many prizes for his research on innovation culture. In his study, he mentions about an equilibrium between creativity and discipline to conduct corporate innovation successfully. https://hbr.org/2019/01/the-hard-truth-about-innovative-cultures
So now, just imagine the difficulty for any Innovation Labs in our industry to keep this equilibrium in place with growing pressure to deliver. Many innovation labs fail at scaling their incubator. They are stuck into so perceived amusing activities while innovative people start loosing their intrinsic motivation, losing their prestige. In other companies, you may observe the opposite, the shift into the business incubator is so strong that only remains people with kind of discipline profile until unit just turn into another project management office. In such a place, the main motivation levers become extrinsic with bigger bonus and hierarchical advancement. In both case, for those companies, creativity has become a taboo.
If you are in the second situation, you are at risk of losing those creative innovators that will discover and seed the next successful business. Luckily, it is not yet too late, you may still be capable to revive the flame. The question is: "how could you influence a disciplined management team to evolve its mindset?"
An unexpected and radical leadership approach could be the solution:
The adoption of feminine values
Stephanie Mitrano has been looking at what we learned from women resilience in context of uncertainty: https://www.icopilots.com/corporate-culture/feminine-values-in-uncertain-times-20395
Observing, how our society is organized in time of crisis, was key to understand its resilience. This allows to identify some undermined feminine values that would benefit a workplace dedicated to innovation. Looking at today's covid19 crisis, at a time we knew barely nothing about the risk and consequences, many courageous people started striving to help. We can think first of all the nurses and hospital caregivers, male and female, same for the grocery supply or the teachers... Here, we acknowledged many times their dedication but maybe did not emphasize enough how their feminine values are pillars of our society:
So lets look again at Gari Pisano discipline factors for innovation: competence, accountability, critic, direction ... and add to those some of the feminine values: intuition, education, collaboration, anticipation... you will return to a strong equilibrium.
Of course, in a disciplined organization, some people will be resistant and think this is a waste of time... wait until there is pressure to innovate.. to observe what is true resilience.