6 steps to get innovation efforts unstuck

Here are six stages that innovation programs must go through to succeed. 


Our chief innovation officer, Guy Fraker, has been talking to dozens of major companies since he joined us a couple of months ago and has found that many innovation efforts at incumbents are stuck. The companies know they need to do something to take advantage of opportunities and to head off competitive threats, but they generate some ideas and … well, then what?

Guy gets companies un-stuck. That’s what he’s done in his distinguished career as an innovation leader, focusing on insurance, and that’s what he’s doing now. He has crystallized his thinking into six stages that innovation programs must go through to succeed. Here is the short version:

--Are you sure?

The decision that seems intuitively correct is often not the best way to go – and the mistake does not become evident for some time. So, stop for a moment and define success. For instance, innovators who start at $0 and grow revenue to $1 million may exult. But will $1 million work for a company with $10 million of existing revenue? $100 million?

Are you really ready to go to market in a new way? To disrupt your business model?

--Deciding strategy

A frequently asked question is, "How do we foster a more innovative culture?” Guy says he responds: "Innovate for growth, and let the requirements for success change the culture."

Corporate innovators must be able to move faster than an organization’s ability to say "no,” but here’s a secret: The key is not thinking "outside the box." The key is actually having leaders define the box within which they want innovation to happen – innovation responds to constraints.

Don’t underestimate the power of people’s enthusiasm when selecting your strategic domain. 

--Deciding the basics

Once you start considering startups, investments, new ideas from within the company and new ideas from customers, you quickly feel like you’ve unleashed chaos. You can keep things under control by having a day-long (or shorter) facilitated session that defines the limits of the strategic domain for innovation and of the business models that can be considered. You also need to decide whether to embed the innovation effort in business units or centralize the work.


Will a dedicated team be established? Will the efforts be assigned to "virtual resources" (code for: We're going to leave people in their day jobs, and they're going to do this part-time)? And who do they report to? Understand that highly effective executives—even those considered entrepreneurial within mid-sized to large corporations—operate quite differently from entrepreneurs and may not be the right fit.

Guy adds: "I always advocate for off-the-shelf innovation platforms [software]. Some organizations choose to build their own, which almost always proves to be the long road to town. Some organizations choose to go without, avoiding some upfront expense. I assure you that a good innovation platform mitigates the need for three to five full-time employees."

And: "One of the better-kept secrets is that innovation lives or dies in the middle of the organization.  Part of your strategy should be around how leadership will manage the soft spots where participation may be slow in coming."

--Build a portfolio view

Every organization needs a single view of innovation activities, including concepts, startups and early-stage investments that are being considered. The axes vary, but you might think in terms of complexity (from "incremental" to "doesn’t exist today") and time horizons (from "immediate" to "three years"). Ideas that can be executed immediately and represent incremental change will be the most by volume but require the fewest resources. At the other end of the spectrum will be a few, resource-intensive "moon shots."

The key is to create a dashboard that enables an organization to manage the scope and number of concepts/investments in motion. 

--Going to market

Often, the product should be introduced as though from a startup, with a small, dedicated team pounding the streets and using all available resources to market, capture feedback and recommend changes. This approach is very counterintuitive for most large organizations, so you need to lay the groundwork early.

Click here for the long version of Guy's thinking on the six steps to getting un-stuck. Better yet, go here to sign up for Guy’s blog.


Paul Carroll, Editor-in-Chief

Paul Carroll

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Paul Carroll

Paul Carroll is the editor-in-chief of Insurance Thought Leadership.

He is also co-author of A Brief History of a Perfect Future: Inventing the Future We Can Proudly Leave Our Kids by 2050 and Billion Dollar Lessons: What You Can Learn From the Most Inexcusable Business Failures of the Last 25 Years and the author of a best-seller on IBM, published in 1993.

Carroll spent 17 years at the Wall Street Journal as an editor and reporter; he was nominated twice for the Pulitzer Prize. He later was a finalist for a National Magazine Award.


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