One of the challenges for corporate innovators is the need to move forward at a constantly accelerated pace to achieve objectives, while making time to step back and consider the bigger, enterprise-wide picture. Some organizations have the luxury of dedicated teams against longer-term, broader thinking and strategies, in conjunction with nearer-term, more operational teams. Often, however, the majority of innovation efforts live in this near-term space, with the mandate to execute a specific set of initiatives driving objectives and work.
For those working in the near-term world of corporate innovation, it can sometimes feel like there is a disconnect between the day to day work and high-level strategies. Business and brand strategies evolve over time and keeping up with the strategic changes while managing innovation activities can feel like a game of catch-up. Individuals can influence the connectivity between longer-term strategies and executional work by asking relevant and sometimes difficult questions that drive more strategic conversations.
There are table stakes questions, of course, that every corporate innovator should answer around target market, business value, brand/business fit, feasibility, etc. But there are also some fundamental big-picture questions that should continually be considered as well:
- How does this innovation support the vision or growth of the business? If the business or brand strategy is unclear, or near-term work feels out of step with the strategy, it’s time to have a leadership discussion.
- How does this work fit within the business portfolio, and the innovation portfolio overall? What role will it play? Understanding what innovation is intended to achieve will help frame the value proposition.
- Do we have the right decision makers on the team or as sponsors to help us through barriers and issues? If no one at a senior level is willing to step in as a champion, it may be a sign that the business is not aligned as to the value of the innovation. Either a better business case needs to be made, or the work needs to be reassessed.
- What is the resource ask for this work vs other innovation work? Is this the most valuable or strategic initiative to be working on right now? This is a hard question for teams to consider, as everyone wants to believe that their work is critical to business growth. But for the health of the business and the innovation portfolio, it’s wise to periodically consider whether resources need to be rebalanced.
- Are we falling into the sunk cost trap? Are we unwilling to kill a bad idea just because we’ve been working on it for so long?
These can be tough questions, but by asking them regularly, with an eye to critical and objective outcomes, innovators can add exponential value to their organizations, while developing their personal business credibility and skills, building stronger innovation expertise overall.