Over the past few months I have worked hard on a massively innovative project with a very forward thinking large company; a couple of hardware vendors and supporting companies. I have been excited, stressed, and most of all very excited with the result. Even though you may not hear about the project, since it’s under NDA, here are some of the notes I took to share with the readers of the blog about how to innovate with large companies
Who are the innovators in the company?
Finding companies who are looking to “innovate” is extremely hard, companies by default are really scared of innovation. To find people within those companies who are willing to innovate is even more tricky. It takes a really strong person in a company to say “Hey, we can do this better” as it implies things are less than perfect already.
Not all companies subscribe to this theory, there are companies that active embrace change using techniques such as Kaizen or continuous improvement models. By elevating our innovators and helping them succeed, hopefully it will create more of them and encourage more companies to treat innovation as part of their business processes.
The lessons that I have learned from innovating with enterprises
Tip 1: Be ready to change
When the project starts out, you will have an approach and a solution to the improvement you are going to create. As you start building it, be ready to be less rigid than you would be in a classical project. It’s ok to accept changes and new requirements as other people within the client’s company see what you are doing.
On the bright side, by bringing in a wider ( and hopefully more senior) group from the clients’ company is a sure sign that your project is gaining attention and the traction that is needed to really succeed.
Tip 2: Innovation is Scary!
When the project starts out, you have a certainty of delivery in your head, including how you will get to that completion. As you build the new project, you will find that it becomes clear that the destination you are going for, may not be the right one. Finding that new solution which fits your project challenge even better, is often the magic that creates real value for customers.
It’s a very scary time, when you shift from your original specification and move in a different direction. Startups call this pivoting, and yes, it happens in large companies too.
You aren’t always sure it will work, sometimes you aren’t even sure it’s completely possible but working with your team, you will find a result. Learning what works is a natural part of the process and learning to accept change is not a sign of weak leadership, more a sign of a calculated innovative strategy. It’s also not easy, otherwise everyone would do it.
Tip 3: Over communicate
Typically some innovators within large companies will have a non-technical skill set. The largest take home lesson that I have had is that, you need to spend much more time communicating with the business and stakeholders on an innovation project.
Making sure that business has a clear picture of where you are and what challenges you are encountering will help them to feel more confident with what you are doing. If your team are working offsite eg in another city, then its a great idea to make sure a good portion of your project time is completed at client’s premises. Ask for a hot desk, they will gladly offer it up.
Tip 4: There is always more you can do
To be able to work on a project that is innovative and game changing for their industry is both scary and exhilarating as you don’t have the benefit of knowing the result, but you have to trust you skills and knowledge that you have or can find the solution to their problem. Despite having happy customers, in the back of your head you always wonder what else you could have done to make it even better.
Innovation projects are like exploration expeditions into the unknown. When Columbus discovered America, I am sure he was overwhelmed with the promise of what could be achieved. Follow Columbus’ strategy and recognise your achievement, but make sure you make plans for your second third and even fourth voyage.
What is the prize if you are successful at innovation?
Most importantly for those visionary people who have innovated within their companies, they will become the future guides to help take those companies into the future, with all the money, awards and glory that goes with the turf.
Watching one of my clients be recognized and awarded publicly within their company from a project that I have worked on is one of the best bonuses that I have got as a creator of technological innovation.
Most of all, I am planning follow ups that I hope will be even more exciting, and hopefully, someone will let me blog about them in the near future.