How to fuel innovation while leveraging your internal resources – Part 2: Taking your ideas further in an X-ator

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Garry Lyons, former CIO at Mastercard, once noted “innovation without execution is only ideas”. In our last blog, we shared with you some lessons in successfully running an idea campaign. But what happens next once you have generated promising ideas? In this blog, we want to focus our attention on internally developing ideas further in what we call an “X-ator”. We use this term to refer to spaces dedicated to innovation – it can be an incubator, accelerator or innovation lab.

According to our latest research, 87% of companies have invested in an X-ator approach. Since October 2016, we have tracked a 27% growth in innovation centers.1 In the light of these statistics, it is safe to say that X-ators have entered the mainstream. But despite their tremendous popularity, many X-ators are unsuccessful in turning ideas into business realities creating revenue for the company. This holds especially true for internal X-ators. While your own employees may have a deeper understanding of your business model, there are some common obstacles these internal X-ators face. In this blog, we want to share with you some lessons for successfully operating an internal X-ator.

Taking your ideas further in an X-ator – top ten things to do:

Ensure speed. By nature, corporates are slow and take a lot of time – the opposite of what you want for your X-ator. Create an environment with flat hierarchies, lean processes and own IT systems. For example, by turning your X-ator into a separate legal entity.

Let go your talents. It is common for managers to refuse sending their employees to an X-ator, especially when it comes to their top talents. To avoid this situation, put thought into a solid interim solution. This can mean adding headcount or re-allocating tasks.

Assign ownership. You need someone in charge that drives the team with passion. Ideally, this person has already been involved in the early development stages of the idea.

Hire specialists. You may need a different skillset from the traditional skillset you recruit (e.g., entrepreneurial experience, programming skills). When you are unable to find these profiles internally, hire external specialists or work together with freelancers.

Involve the business. Make sure to have someone from the future Business Unit on the team. Why? This person can validate and promote the idea and – what is most important – ensure a smooth transition from the X-ator environment to the Business Unit.

Offer mentoring. A portfolio of experienced entrepreneurs, subject matter experts and senior managers should provide mentoring to the teams when they are stuck in a place.

Dedicate budget. Once the business case is done, teams should be able to apply for budget. Typically, the budget is allocated depending on the expected Return on Investment, and teams can decide autonomously how they want to spend their budget.

Allow for feedback. Expose your teams to outside influences. You can invite customers over for workshops to test how certain features are accepted. Another avenue is to organize “pitch nights” where (internal/external) teams can pitch their ideas for feedback.

Work in sprints. Use Scrum to break complex problems into smaller pieces. In daily stand-ups, team members give each other a brief update on how things are going.

Focus, focus, focus. You need a team that is purely focused on its idea, meaning e-mails and phone calls related to team members’ old positions must be avoided. Developing an idea is a full-time commitment and managers and co-workers must know and respect this.

As the pace of technological advances increases, companies face pressure to innovate – also internally. It is no longer enough to rely on acquisitions, partnerships and joint ventures, and a significant share of companies has started using idea campaigns and X-ators as vehicles to fuel internal innovation. In this and the previous blog, we covered critical success factors for idea campaigns and X-ators. In the end, the big challenge is to prevent the internal organization from killing great ideas.

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1. Capgemini (2017). The discipline of innovation. Making sure your innovation center makes your organization more innovative.

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