Disruption Insurance Tip 2: Worry if your business has an Innovation Department

The Innovation Department

You should be worried if your business has an Innovation Department. Why? Innovation is not something that can happen within or can be created by a small subset of a business. A business is either innovative or it isn’t, and setting up a special department won’t fix a business that fundamentally needs to innovate across the board. Having seen many businesses struggle with this, we look at the indicators for innovation failure, and for success. 

When to worry about Innovation: 

There’s a department. 
If there’s an Innovation Department or if there’s a Head of Innovation, there’s something wrong. It means the business fundamentally is not expected to innovate. All business innovation is expected to be driven by one team or one individual. Basically innovation has been identified as being required, but then put ‘in a cupboard’, down a dusty corridor, away from the action of serious business. 

There’s a team.
If there’s a small handful of people tasked with keeping the business ahead of the rest; they’re got their work cut out. Perhaps it is their job to get others to be ‘more innovative’ or perhaps it is their job to run innovation programmes or projects. Either way, the implication is that those who do not have Innovation as part of their job title are not expected to innovate. 

There’s a small budget.
A small budget for innovation is worse than no budget. It allows the small innovation team to spend money on doing something but ensures the impact of what they do will be minimal. The small budget means that the executive team is convinced they need to do something but they don’t want to take any risk whatsoever. Innovation usually requires big shifts to take place. Usually big shifts mean big risks. Small budgets with zero risk mean not much is going to happen. 

There’s a belief innovation is (just) about technology.
Many innovations we use today are often wrongly assumed to be technical innovations. Instead, things like Air BnB and Uber, rely on innovative approaches to regulation, things like Facebook and Twitter rely on the right features blended together in the right way at the right time (neither did anything technically new that other web platforms were not technically capable of). If a business understands Innovation projects to be technology tests, there’s a fundamental misconception that means Innovation is only something that can come from technical ideas. 

There’s a belief innovation is just about using services like Slack.
Using new (ish) products like Dropbox or Slack does not make a business innovative - either because it can adopt new services itself or is encouraged to do so by its teams as they were using it as ‘Shadow IT’. 

Agile is shorthand for Innovative.
There’s too much to write about here but in short, if a business believes it has transitioned from not-innovative to innovative through using Agile as a development methodology there is a problem. It also means the business does not really understand Agile. Especially if by Agile they mean Waterfall with stand-ups and Post-It Notes…. 

Innovation projects are successful but no one cares.
The department or team could successfully deliver (small budget, technical innovation) projects and meet its own success metrics but ideas are not adopted, and fundamentally the management team does not care or is not involved. If this happens, the business is not serious about innovation and is just paying lip service to it.

There’s a whole shiny Innovation Lab. But it’s somewhere else!
This one’s great and something we see a lot of. Often, a business has worked through all the points above and is ‘taking it seriously this time’. The business has set up an Innovation Lab in which a focussed team can act without the pressures of the rest of the ‘business as usual’. Often this Lab is a physical entity located somewhere else (and often in a trendy / more tech friendly / cheaper office space? area like Shoreditch - although less so now as rents rise). Often team members with different skill sets are hired -  these are often younger, trendier people with the goal of bringing a fresh approach. This may work for a bit especially if this time there’s more money, BUT it still sits outside of Business As Usual which is becoming less and less innovative, and perhaps less and less relevant daily.

What to do if you’re worried

Of course businesses that do some or all of the above can see successes -  but without the right attitude success is harder. At Rebel Futures we believe Innovation is about attitude and approach in everything a business does: who it hires, how it operates, what tech it uses, what products and services it offers and how it serves its customers.

The world is changing so fast; innovation can happen at every level within a business. Instead of building structures in which businesses can manage innovation separately from day to day activities, we believe in identifying and supporting opportunities for innovation that underpin everything a business does - by everyone in it. Rebel Futures designs Strategic Innovation approaches / Test & Learn projects / investigations and helps teams to define what it is that will make them innovative and able to achieve success. 

Our principles for Business Innovation:

  • Everyone in the business should be able to / be required to innovate
  • All functions / departments should innovate / improve / grow / develop
  • Innovation is not a project - but a way to operate a business in our rapidly changing world
  • In the world of rapid technological change - there is no business as usual