Innovation Programs Are Good, Just Not Good Enough.

Like most big companies, you’ve probably run or are currently running, at least one internal innovation program. It might be small workshops, departmental level programs, the rollout of an enterprise idea management tool like Spigit, or something less formal.

In our experience, innovation programs are great at generating small, incremental innovations, but they don’t go far enough. They don’t bring out the genuinely disruptive, forward-thinking, billion-dollar ideas.

Unfortunately, that’s where there is a disconnect: when they set up innovation groups, senior management expects substantial new business from it. In my experience, many executives believe that unless it can generate billion-dollar companies (what we call unicorns out here in Silicon Valley), they won’t see it as a success. Where a typical innovation program might generate some interesting incremental products, services, and process improvements, they rarely create billion dollar ideas, even collectively.

We’ve worked with many companies to develop new products and services via internal crowdsourced innovation programs. While the programs were quite successful, unfortunately, they never really delivered exciting disruptive new products and innovation. Plenty of small, incremental improvements, but none big enough to justify the expense of maintaining a permanent innovation group. No, billion-dollar businesses are the expectation, and if they aren’t forthcoming, the group is found lacking, and may not last long.

Some years ago, we were in the same situation. We were running a successful innovation program which was gathering great ideas, but none genuinely disruptive or needle-moving. The CEO was ready to shut down the innovation group, not receiving the kind of ideas he expected. As an experiment, we revised the time frame of the program: instead of looking slightly forward into the future for new product ideas, we decided to look ahead ten years out instead.

Adjusting the time frame and encouraging the participants to place their mindsets into that far-future timeframe resulted in breaking the employee’s cognitive mental blocks of what they and their company would be capable of building today. When we asked them to look up and out, far beyond the barriers and roadblocks of their daily struggles, genuinely disruptive and innovative billion-dollar ideas were born.

This first-ever “futurist innovation program” went on to be the most successful innovation program that our clients ever ran. In addition to generating hundreds of exciting, new, disruptive, out-of-the-box ideas, it created:

  • Massive increases in employee engagement (over 20% more) and employee morale for the future of the company. From upper management to the troops, faith in the future of the firm soared
  • Detailed scenarios, leading to comprehensive strategic plans, new product development, and capability creation. Senior management worked the finding into strategic visions for the future of the firm.
  • Hundreds of patentable ideas, which went directly in the companies patent portfolio (which eventually led to $1B patent portfolio)

After that success, we brought this program to many other companies, also struggling to generate billion dollar businesses from their “standard” corporate innovation programs.

These programs help your employees genuinely see the potential of your company, customers, and industry into the next decade, resulting in higher employee insight, loyalty, and engagement.

This program brings your entire business, department, C-Suite, or small team into the innovation (and disruption) conversation. Futurist innovation programs allow you to discover global trends and emerging market opportunities; the impact of innovations; learn to separate patterns from the hype, and anticipate risk management.

Using a combination of foresight tools such as artifacts-from-the-future, signal collection, shift identification, and Second Curve techniques, they help guide your staff into envisioning and living that far future, which is where big money is: the disruptive, “dent-the-universe” style ideas.

The real unicorns that we all love so much.