Setting Up the Innovation ‘Shop’: Former Starbucks VP Shares Her Advice

By Rachel Antalek, Contributing Columnist; Former VP/Concept Innovation, Starbucks

For me, getting started was the hardest part of responding to the ambiguous instruction to “set up a disruptive innovation team.” I’d been an innovator for years at both Darden Restaurants and Starbucks, and I was comfortable with ambiguity. But when I was tapped to become the VP of Concept Innovation at Starbucks, in 2013, the context was different. I’d never created an innovation team from scratch, and we had no internal experience with a team dedicated to disruptive innovation.

I read countless articles, written by academics and consultants. I found little that had been written by corporate innovation veterans. (This was a few years before Innovation Leader launched.) Here’s the advice I wish I’d received then, organized by “the why,” “the what,” and “the how”:


An initial step is defining what kind of innovation you will pursue. For me, it meant answering the question, why disruptive innovation, and what did we mean by that? This was one of the most challenging questions. We had no formal definitions of innovation in the company. We tackled it two ways.

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