Iterate Instead of Analyze for Innovation Success

Intrapreneurship is needed in large companies.  Commonly, these companies tend to have plenty of data that has been collected to document market dynamics. Whether it is corporate strategy or corporate development, larger businesses have departments that constantly evaluate opportunities for growth–be they organic or inorganic.  Encouraging innovation and breakthroughs can be hard. The main reason big business becomes stagnant is that the mindset required for disruptive advances is very different than the risk management and mitigation approach of many market leaders.

Kevin McFarthing, who leads the Innovation Fixer consulting firm, suggests in a recent blog that “These companies also have a very rational approach to the assessment of investment opportunities. Of course, they find that the expenditure line has a much higher level of confidence than either the timeline or the scale of revenue. For that reason large companies want to increase the level of confidence in the income stream. Various techniques are used; for example, many consumer goods companies will undertake a fairly standard sequential program of qualitative and quantitative market research. This will relate to a database of similar products launched in the past. So, as long as you do the market research correctly, you can reduce your uncertainty and proceed.”

As is pointed out above, the traditional analytical tools used to evaluate comparable opportunities are somewhat like the comparables sought out when buying a new residence: intended to estimate what already exists instead of what has never been built. Relying on historical information rather than anticipating future demand is like driving down the road only looking in the rear view mirror!

On the opposite end of the spectrum, small businesses being run by visionary entrepreneurs tend to rely far less on the projection techniques of their larger counterparts. These start-ups rely on gut instinct, passion, and drive rather than systems. Instead of evaluating a market based on dozens of data points, the executive teams of thriving young businesses gather market information, develop a proof of concept, test it on a limited basis, revise the offering, and are nimble in their adjustments to feedback so that they can quickly bring something new to the marketplace. 

leap of faith

Large companies find what is done in the entrepreneurial space to be akin to a leap of faith. It’s very hard for a corporate type to operate from a place of judgment rather than logic. The willingness to produce something that is not perfect is much less in an organization with extensive quality initiatives.  The whole concept of try…try…try again that is the mantra of an entrepreneur is eschewed in favor of taking calculated risks. While it sounds stereotypical, it is not at all uncommon for the large company approach to be one that avoids undertaking projects without tons of documentation and extensive project and/or product planning down to minute details.  This predictable approach has severe shortcomings in an environment where responsiveness can make the difference between producing an offering that resonates versus one that is a “me too” alternative.

Instead of performing market and buyer research that resembles a canned, rote methodology, what is needed is flexibility, customization, and the ability to constantly iterate. Instead of sequence and a step-wise stage gate process, truly innovative organizations are far more willing to engage in trial and error.

McFarthing says that many large organizations lack the right mindset to explore potential. Changes he advocates that they make to become more innovative include: 

–   Rely much more on judgment to move projects ahead rapidly;

–   Don’t apply the same criteria to incremental and radical innovation;

–   Use a fast and iterative sequence of prototyping and market testing to learn and reduce uncertainty;

–   Go to market as soon as you can, don’t wait for all the facts.

Follow these suggestions and you will change your culture to become more intrapreneurial!




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