The Wrong Way To Innovate: When Unrealistic Expectations Meet Antiquated Management

Innovation has always been culturally synonymous with ‘the latest and greatest’, the ‘next big thing’, and on the surface this true. Companies like to rollout their innovations at trade shows and industry events to garner attention and praise for their good work.

While there are a lot of best practices, many companies tailor their efforts to their corporate structure and industry. Innovation luminaries like Coca Cola, General Electric, Shell Oil innovate effectively because they have structural elements in common, and they work to avoid a number of key pitfalls executing innovation work.

Sprints vs. Marathons

Usain Bolt has never run a mile,1 and great innovation centers have similar focus. Innovation initiatives that lack focus will rarely be able to deliver exponential innovation – the kind of output that creates new categories and literally makes steaks from organization’s sacred cow. Phil Swisher, former Global Head of Innovation at Brown Brothers Harriman, told Innovation Leader that “to maximize impact and outcomes, you’re relying on the senior executive sponsor (ideally the CEO) to provide the permission and space for the team to go after the really big opportunities, including the ones which are threatening to the status quo of the company.” Without executive support expect your Innovation initiatives to deliver only innovations like new product features, colors, and line extensions.

A Kilo of Feathers or A Kilo of Bricks

Insists on using the traditional and standard measurements on innovation projects, and you get standard and traditional outputs. Be purposeful in defining value creation for your innovation practice. Know what kind of value you want and encourage it by design.

Coca Cola’s Vice President of Entrepreneurship and Innovation David Butler provided some insights to Innovation Leader on how he evaluates his center’s activities. David says “We track progress just like a VC does, in this case. We look right at growth metrics, the things that really matter.”2 This is a startup, so financial performance is never the first thing to measure. A sure fire way to discourage innovation is to expect immediate revenue.

Location, Location, Location

Where you locate your innovation center within your organization matters. Some companies like Trek Bicycles locates their R&D Skunkworks directly into their business units to accelerate buy-in. Alphabet (Google) moved their social innovation lab (Jigsaw) out of the organization so that it could operate independently. The American Cancer Society built it’s Futuring and Innovation Center within the organization to maximize connectivity. Avoid creating it under the auspices of a strict operational or financial leader determined to conform the outputs to legacy metrics.

Total Secrecy Is Totally Wrong

An innovation project can energize an organization – so showcase the great work to generate excitement and even a little bit of envy. When a employees see the work they’ll ask how they can get involved. The exponential value accumulates when you generate broad engagement – when your innovation center attracts inputs from across the organization. Diverse minds share diverse ideas that can generate new value. Having confidentiality is expected, but secrecy and needless exclusivity impede value creation.

Opening and operating an internal innovation initiative is a daunting challenge. It requires executive support, careful forethought and a leader with the courage to take risks. But if an organization can methodically plan and execute the stand-up and delivery they can realize exponential value creation.

About the Author

Randal C. MossRandal C. Moss is an award winning marketer who focuses on engaging organizations and applying technology to drive growth. He has over 12 years of experience including institutionalizing innovation development frameworks, and creating consumer engagement solutions for companies and clients across the CPG, Real Estate, and nonprofit sectors. Randal has spoken at conferences such as SXSW (3X), State of Play, National Human Services Assembly National Meeting, Disney Institute’s Digital Now, and the American Marketing Association Hot Topic Tour.

Randal’s first book, with co-author David J. Neff, is The Future of Nonprofits: Innovate and Thrive in the Digital Age (Wiley). Their newest book, IGNITE: Setting your Organization’s Culture on Fire with Innovation was released in August 2016.


  1. Usain Bolt Has Never Run a Mile (No, Really), Time, Staff Writers
  2. Innovation Leader Magazine Spring 2016
  3. Under pressure, Lockheed opens up about secret weapons unit, Reuters, Andrea Shalal and Howard Goller

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