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Live from FEI 2014: Panel on Building New Business in Established Organizations

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One of the biggest challenges faced by large, established businesses is the fact that inertia and the maintenance of their main product and service lines can prevent them from innovating. Even the "innovate or die" mantra, of which they are aware, does not provide enough impetus to get them to try and disrupt themselves.[1] Yet, some firms, like IBM and P&G, have been able to innovate without necessarily resorting to skunkworks projects like Google[x], and today's session featured advice from Dr. Carol Kovac (IBM) and George Glackin (P&G) on how they managed to do this (they were joined by changelogic's Andy Binns).

Flat out, here is the problem: The very qualities that make a company great are also the greatest hindrance to growth and transition in times of change, threat, or opportunity. There is a risk that any changes made to the firm will cause it to go under sooner than it might have otherwise, even as inaction will lead to certain doom. Yet, as the panel pointed out, this is not an impossible situation. There are a number of steps that an organization can take to make innovation and new business happen in a well-established entity:

1) Strong leadership -- The company needs to choose people who can both lead a business and can bring in a solid foundation of knowledge of both the organization and its brand. This allows for strong leadership that is consistent with the mission and meaning of the company.

2) Efficient HR planning across the hierarchy -- Make sure that there are representatives from all levels of the company so that the people involved in innovation initiatives understand that their endeavor has the support of the C-suite.[2,3]

3) Rigorous fiscal planning and disciplined investment -- This is actually a delicate balance. On the one hand, the company needs to budget sufficiently for the innovation endeavors and have a consistent and disciplined investment plan. On the other, the innovation process needs to be nimble and fast, and it should be accepted that it will not adhere to traditional financial measurements and benchmarks. Consequently, its success/outcomes should not be evaluated like the other, established parts of the business.

4) Drive to deliver near-term shareholder value -- Without this, the company is going to face a serious backlash from its investors.

5) Ability to scale -- Whatever the company is working on, it needs to be something that can be scaled quickly, easily, and readily.[4]

6) Relentless focus on the customer -- This is consistent with most of the established advice on innovation (see asides below), but bears repeating. Companies can sometimes get so wrapped up in their own processes that they forget to be in touch with the end users of their products and services (which are also the people who provide the revenue!).

Even with steps as clear-cut as these, the genius of the companies that follow them lies in the execution. Few are able to do it successfully, but there are enough proofs-of-concept to demonstrate that it is possible for even old, big, and established companies to innovate like a start-up.

Orin's Asides
1) Which, as Luke Williams points out, is important for any business.
2) Peter Koen on why C-suite support is key.
3) My recommendations for bringing in good talent.
4) See Bob Sutton's and Huggy Rao's book on scaling.

Orin C. Davis is a positive psychology researcher and organizational consultant who focuses on enabling people to do and be their best.  His consulting work focuses on maximizing human capital and making workplaces great places to work, and his research focuses on self-actualization, flow, creativity, hypnosis, and mentoring. Dr. Davis is the principal investigator of the Quality of Life Laboratory and the Chief Science Officer of Self Spark. (@DrOrinDavis)

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