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How to overcome the innovation predicament – the term versus the spirit

I’ve observed before how everyone wants innovation but no one wants to innovate. The essence of that observation roughly 6 months ago was that although the talk of and need for innovation (from company executives) was high, interest in the topic wasn’t (from punters).

Not much has changed since except the gap has probably grown. Can you blame people when there are so many other pressing issues and people are overwhelmed.

That doesn’t take away from the fact that it is still very much needed, nor from the fact that it is happening in abundance, despite all the disinterest in the term or even all the other overwhelming pressures.

Distractions and pressures aside, people, whether in startups or large corporations, are out there innovating and doing their thing every single day. They are just not necessarily calling it innovation.

Who cares then, what it’s being called, as long as its being done. And I don’t believe the imperative for it being done comes just from executives.

Most, whether admitting it or not, want to be innovative. It’s an innate desire to evolve, be creative or inventive. It’s built into us. It was needed for survival in the real jungle, now the jungle has evolved but survival by these means is still necessary.

For evidence that there is a bunch of innovation hustle and bustle out there, look no further than the Creator Economy. If you want deeper level insights on this, follow Creator Economy by Kaya Yurieff from The Information (a newsletter). The creator economy is just another catchy phrase for people being innovative (since creativity is at its core) and by all accounts, it’s huge.

The difference in the terms and spirit of it is that on the one hand there is a lot of talking going on (about innovation) and on the other, on being innovative (by just doing stuff).

In an age where self promotion is par for the course, its understandable that talking dominates. And there is good reason to shout about successes and spreading the word. But when it comes to innovation, it is the doers that matter and just plain being innovative. As an individual or a company, whatever you call it, this is what determines success and in many cases survival.

So how can we do more or be more innovative

  1. As an individual, experiment. Try things out and see where it leads. By this I mean a methodical approach that begins with an hypothesis and then pursues a series of trials to either prove or disprove it. The benefit of doing something yourself, whether at work or in your personal life, is that the barriers to doing so are super low and this approach should provide data. Assuming positive, you can present the data as evidence in arguing your case and getting others on board as will inevitably be the case. This is quintessentially a learning by doing exercise and any which way it goes, it’s a win.
  2. As a company, cultivate intrapreneurs. I wrote an eBook that was partly on this subject and that’s how this website started. Read that or any of the posts I created as part of researching that book under various tags: innovation hacking, startup innovation or intrapreneur. In many of those you will find, whether in startups or large companies, stories where individuals are given the freedom and courage to innovate with the success this brings. But don’t just take my word for it, PwC have a series that cover this well (even if not using the term intrapreneur – but remember, its not about terms): Workforce of the future – The World in 2030. Ditto the World Economic Forum: David vs Goliath – Understanding the corporate battle of digital disruption.
  3. In general, forgive failure. People wont try if they fear failure. They have to give themselves permission to fail. In companies you can make it safe to fail (great article from McKinsey which explains how and also recounts a story about Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s approach to this). Speaking of Microsoft (disclosure), one other thing it does is organise global hackathons, with customers even, most recently. These are essentially safe spaces and times to innovate and fail gloriously even though the ultimate goal is to come up with great ideas that can be commercialised. Some examples of the latter here: The Garage Wall of Fame – Microsoft Garage. This should apply to the whole of society really if we are ever to overcome the innovation predicament and solve some of its biggest challenges and ills in the true spirit of innovation.
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Innovation has never been more problematic or needed – 3 things you can do

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Everyone wants innovation, no one wants to innovate. It’s similar to change. Therein may lie the rub. They are such broad terms, they may have lost their significance. But the problem goes beyond lack of interest, there is a lack of purpose or organisation/management, the pace of change, all and more contribute to this situation. Call it innovation fatigue if you will, in fact a book has got that covered already: Innovation for the fatigued – How to Build a Culture of Deep Creativity. And yet, the imperative is as high as ever.

Continue reading Innovation has never been more problematic or needed – 3 things you can do
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Intrapreneur’s Playbook: Why dissent is good for your organisation and 10 ways to foment disruption

20151027_215630000_iOSI work in an organisation and industry where a key mantra of work and of the value we offer to customers is (improved) collaboration. Central to this is effective teamwork and working like a network. I believe in this wholeheartedly with every fibre in my body since I have been working in this space for the last 10 years. However, there are times when it is counter-productive and things need to be stirred up a little.

There are times when “group think” can set in. Shared thinking can become stultifying. There is a risk of echo chambers forming. Out of the ordinary thinking so necessary for innovation can be lost. I’m not the only one to think so:

Inspired by this article on how to disrupt yourself, I borrowed liberally but modified it somewhat to focus more on an organisational level. I also added the last four points. It is essentially a set of principles intended to keep everyone on their toes, responsive to change and disruptive. This is for people who understand that the way organisations work has changed but not all minds in them have yet and the path to changing them sometimes need revolutionary tactics. This could also easily be a chapter out of an Intrapreneur’s Playbook – hence the title. So to the list:

1. An autonomous unit of contrarians who understand that new models and methods need to be created constantly.

The unit should have all the functional skills it needs to succeed, the right mindset and the wherewithal to operate independently of current business responsibilities (including finacial independence) but are still deeply entrenched in core business operations.

2. Leaders who come from the relevant “schools of experience.”

These leaders have addressed a variety of challenges, especially in the kinds of problems new business models and challenges will face.

3. A code of conduct and principles (like this set :).

Adherents should be inspired and can subscribe to them easily because they are clear and unequivocal and can be communicated and even tought consistently throughout the organisation.

4. Independent collaboration and communication channels.

These should not be required to coordinate with or defer to existing channels. A channel that allows for super efficient information flows, hyper connectedness and virality of movement. So by channel I don’t mean email – I’m talking Yammer, Slack, etc. :)

5. Performance standards that are open to the unit.

It should be able to reflect priorities different from those of the core business. You can expect the new unit to do as well as the core in terms of performance, but the formula for generating that performance must be different.

6. Unwavering commitment by the CEO.

He or she must be willing to spend an inordinate amount of time understanding and guiding the development of the new movement and must protect it from the natural desire on the part of managers in the core business to shut it down.

7. Understanding the status quo.

What the group thinks is not what is going to move you forward but its important to understand from whence you are coming so that you can better plot a chart for the destination. What will, how it will and why then becomes a robust rallying cry for the movement for change.

8. Hack the change and in turn the culture.

The insurgent’s/disrupter’s way is through Guerilla tactics – small, incisive attacks at the status quo that end up disrupting it. Piecemeal successes that collectively make up success at scale. A little more about hacking here.

9. Celebrate the successes through stories.

They must be authentic, based on experience and driven by emotion (narratives close to people’s collective purpose). They should also use facts and data based on reality that point to real successes and value. Enliven your stories with rich media, video, audio, diagrams, etc.

10. Start at the beginning.

The enemy never sleeps and you have to reinvent yourself constantly. Failure is an option and experimentation is the insurgent’s/disrupter’s Petri dish and the new planning.


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Diary of an Accidental Intrapreneur

accidental intrapreneurI originally wrote this post on LinkedIn but think this site is a better home considering the subject matter so just bringing it over.

A lot has been written about what constitutes an intrapreneur and why its so important. I should know, I’m writing a book about the subject and have been researching it openly for some time now (lots of onward links in there). I believe I am also one but not necessarily by design. I happen to have become one through the series of choices I have made in my working life and some serendipitous circumstances.

So what I thought to do in this post is document my experiences that have led me to believe I am an intrapreneur (not in chronological order nor in terms of importance). You could also see this as my view on what constitutes the perfect intrapreneur. What do you think?

  1. Start and run a business. Strictly speaking this is not a prerequisite if you have already done something like it (intrapreneurial) inside a large organisation. But I’d say it would make you a far more well rounded intrapreneur if you have. I’ve run my own business for 6 years (before joining Yammer, a startup itself) so appreciate the startups perspective intimately.
  2. Work with startups. I’ve also been a mentor at Microsoft Ventures for the last 18 months and before that at Seedcamp. There is nothing quite like the smell of startup first thing in the morning and at accelerators like MSVentures and Seedcamp you get 24 hours of it with insight and inspiration that is infectious. Good for bringing back to the mother ship.
  3. Experience in large organisations.  Once more this is not a prerequisite but the work of the true intrapreneur is most likely to find roots in the soil of a large organisation. I’ve worked successfully with some of Microsoft’s largest accounts and have always worked with or in some of the worlds largest brands. In B2B and B2C and in tech, consumer electronics and FMCG industries. So I also understand well the corporate’s perspective and it is a beast you need to be able to navigate.
  4. See innovation as your true north. I’m a huge fan of innovation and keep coming back to it time and again – it has me in its thrall. I see startups and entrepreneurs as the life blood of innovation success but not exclusively – as long as larger organisations start to rumble like them. I also think innovation needs constant innovation. The hacking approach is currently an interesting take on how innovation can be approached and I’ve helped Tesco run a global hackathon very successfully (see video with my take on this).
  5. Be a maker/inventor/tinkerer. I am always involved in developing innovative products or services, either helping develop them in house in large corporates, on my own (we built a social software platform in my own business) or helping others. I led a team hack in last years Microsoft One Week hackathon that won several internal awards. The desire to create is ever present.
  6. Stakeholder engagineer. You need to be comfortable working with the people in the organisation that will make things happen for your initiative – that is very often senior executives. A recent example I have was not inside the organisation but with a large banking customer. We closed a $30m deal that I got the ball rolling on with Yammer 18 months prior. I built a relationship with the CEO who spearheaded the Yammer drive and was instrumental in explosive Yammer growth. I then managed to get him to speak at events for us presenting to other senior execs.
  7. Able to market and sell. You need to have excellent writing skills – I am an avid blogger for instance and now most recently, an eBook author. This is useful for outreach efforts (through internal social networks for instance) to scale reach and create awareness. You also should be able to drive thought leadership and content publishing efforts by teams on platforms like WordPress. I build a WordPress site anytime I need to promote something (like my book) because they are so versatile as communication platforms. On the sell side, I’m also recognised amongst peers as a leading practitioner of a cold calling technique to reach members of the business outside of current relationships. The target is to broaden relationships and reach business decision makers that will take ownership and drive adoption of technologies or initiatives in the organisation. Success rates are routinely close to 100%
  8. Be collaborative. Just as it is important to engage senior executives, so too is it important to connect with the working community around you, especially those effected by your initiative or can help with it. I am good at building and managing virtual communities and spin one of these up too every time I am working on a new project or initiative that could do with the help of the crowd.
  9. Customer oriented. I am very Druckerian in that I believe the sole purpose of business is to create and retain a customer, powered by innovation. I believe you can have customers on the inside too – the different stakeholders and community of “users” you need to target with your initiative. I’ve written about this before. The last few years of my experience have been focused on customer success – the art of making the recipients of your technology, service or product, successful in its use.
  10. Perform and make an impact. Your initiative needs to hit the rubber at some stage. Sometimes this also requires performance in a day job. My performance over the last two years has been well above expectations terms of bonuses awarded but I still managed to find time to build out initiatives whether successful or not. I recently updated my Resume (pdf on DropBox) focused on key skills and impact in them if you are interested.


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Round up of latest #intrapreneur trends

  1. How to partner with a larger company when you’re a startup
  2. Why investors love spin-off startups
  3. The struggle with adapting the lean startup to the corporate environment
  4. Big Companies Must Embrace Intrapreneurship To Survive
  5. Big Companies Should Collaborate with Startups
  6. Driving a culture of innovation with entrepreneurial thinking now being pushed at University
  7. How Large Companies Can Act Like Startups
  8. European tech startups are well advised to get closer to corporate giants in the pursuit of growth