Why you Should (and Shouldn’t) Create A Dedicated Innovation Unit in 2014? Part 2

In a previous blog we discussed whether innovation should have a dedicated team (let’s call that “internal venturing “) or be a part of everybody’s job.  The way to answer that question is to answer this: “how hostile, or supportive, is the organisation’s existing culture to innovation?”  “How sophisticated is the organisation with regard to innovation?”   Ideally, you don't split off the innovation function – it's just a part of everyone's job.  However, in an organisation:

  • that's new to, or struggling with innovation
  • there are entrenched ways “we do things around here”
  • there are many and competing power bases
  • there is fear and resistance to change
  • that’s slow to prototype, and develop new ideas
  • that’s attempting to take on a whole new direction

Then it's justified to have a separate innovation "team", while you undergo the cultural change that's needed to spread innovation throughout the organisation. 

This means it gets the attention and resources it needs and more importantly, it is measured on its achievements.

Internal Venturing Can Work

Internal venturing is good when:

  • there is hostility to innovation
  • there is a climate that is unsupportive of innovation
  • the resistance is deemed to be too high
  • you're trying to change the culture
  • there are some excellent ideas that won't get off the ground under existing circumstances
  • you want to buy time while you affect cultural change in the parent organisation. 

When ...

So the questions to ask yourself before you consider a separate "innovation" team are these:

  • how hostile, or supportive is the organisation to innovation?
  • how open, or not, are managers and leaders to ideas from their people?
  • do we need a parallel structure for innovation?  And if we do for how long should we keep in place?
  • What is our broader strategy with regard to creating an "innovative" organisation?

The danger with dedicated innovation departments, are that they become removed from clients/sales/marketing and/or external reality.  (Recall the Xerox example in the previous blog.   Xerox created all those fantastic innovations, which it was unable to commercialise e.g. the mouse). 

The danger of NOT setting up a dedicated department is that innovation is crushed by the existing hierarchy and attitudes.

Note, I’m not speaking here about setting up cross functional teams dedicated to particular innovation projects - they are always a good idea.  I am talking about setting up a dedicated unit on an ongoing basis to handle innovation.

Three ways to make your innovation unit work better

  1. Establish a dedicated innovation department, but give it a limited time frame.
  2. Establish a dedicated innovation department and rotate positions to keep it relevant and in touch with the larger organisation and environment.
  3. Don't establish a dedicated innovation department – but establish a parallel hierarchy within the existing organisation for innovation.  This can work quite well.

In the meantime – work furiously to develop innovation across the whole organisation and at all levels.

With either structure - one thing is definite - innovation needs to be a part of someone's (or many "someone's") accountability.  If it isn't, it will just fall through the cracks.  All of this should form a part of your innovation strategy. 

Want more?

  • Need help to develop an innovation strategy or run innovation workshops?  Contact Cris at cris@crispopp.com
  • Like to do it yourself?  Buy “The Innovation Diamond: A 5 Stage Process Guaranteed to solve any problem, exploit opportunities, create new ideas and innovate”