escaping the innovation purge – part 2

In last weeks blog post, we discussed the innovation purge – the “disease” which seems to strike corporates once every few years or so, when they realize that the innovation group that they so lovingly created was not going to be able to generate those billion-dollar businesses that they expected from it magically.

Depending on where you are in the downward or upward cycle, depending on if you are interested in staying with this organization, you have several options. Let’s start at the end and move backward, because in many cases, you may not recognize “stage 4” of Innovation Purge until it’s too late.

Once you start seeing the bleeding at the top, you can always look to jump to another competitor’s innovation group. This may be a viable option for you – depending on any non-competes you may have with your previous company. But this is just a bid to save yourself. Saving your group might be more difficult, but it is not impossible.

Here are a few key steps.

  1. Pivot your group’s vision to a more relevant sector. For example, if your innovation group only focuses on the future in generic terms – get specific and get relevant to what the company is currently trending in. For example, focus on innovation in diversity and inclusion (a hot topic) and pivot your team in generating innovations in that space. Or drive to a specific customer segment that the company is looking to expand business in. For example, if your CEO has publicly come out in support of the homeless, small business, or the underbanked, pivot your team into ideation in those specific niches.
  2. The other method which may or may not work is to tighten your timeframe – typically, innovation groups look 5-10 years out, so bringing your timeframe into 1-2 years out and ideating in that space helps. You can kick this off by running your own 10-year ideation backcast to help you generate ideas for the near term. Make sure that whatever you are developing is near-term profitable. Incremental innovations are fine here – try to stay always from anything too disruptive.
  3. Finally, if your innovation group is shrinking, your legal team still has a robust IP practice. They are still interested in building out a useful patent portfolio, then pivot your team to become a Targeted IP Generation group. This group ideates, but specifically NOT in the product space – they ideate for the sole reason of creating patentable ideas. These are then vetted by your legal team and processed into the patent pipeline. If there is a need for this, then you may be able to save most if not all of your group by moving it under legal.

Moving back a stage – before layoff but in the timeframe where the innovation group may be in decline:

  1. You could pitch your team as an internal “idea incubator.” Think of it as an internal, “free” consulting company that focuses deeply on a particular issue. For example, I know of service just like this for one of my banking customers – they met with various business lines and gathered some of the most thorny problems that the group faced. They then researched, experimented, and drove data gathering, ideation, and solutions, which they then presented, consultant style, to the original requestor. This works partly because most of these teams are heads down just trying to stay afloat, and your team could swoop in to solve the big problems by using focused effort and innovation and strategic foresight principles and research. Another option is to focus on specific niches of direct importance to the company and the industry.

Before that, there is probably a little indication that leadership is losing faith in its innovation group to generate billion-dollar ideas. But once you start seeing cracks appear, it is prudent to be ready. While being in the innovation space is exhilarating, it is also stressful since you never know how much longer you will be around. If you ask me, it beats me. Finally, if you can’t stomach the stress, then get out of the innovation space altogether – the job may be continuously interesting. Still, if you can’t embrace the change and disruption that comes with it, you may be better off in accounting.