Overcoming Politics and Internal Resistance: Advice from Your Peers

By Scott Kirsner |  March 3, 2020

At our Silicon Valley Deep Dive event in February, we asked a group of 30 innovation, emerging technology, and R&D leaders from industries like apparel, financial services, telecom, and manufacturing to discuss the things that can help overcome organizational resistance to innovation — as well as some of the things that can increase it. (We used Post-It Notes and easel pads to capture the group’s ideas.) Here’s the list of do’s and don’ts the group shared about avoiding political tug-of-wars and internal conflicts.


  • Over-invest in building relationships.
  • Map out the stakeholders who will be involved, or be affected, by the work you’re doing. Get input from key stakeholders as a way to get their buy-in.
  • Learn how your key leaders make decisions, and use that to gain alignment.
  • Find a champion and make sure they feel like you’re developing his or her idea, or that they have regular input into what you’re working on.
  • Create RACI charts to understand which people in the organization are responsible, accountable, should be consulted, or kept informed of your work — and make sure you’re doing that. (IL has created a downloadable version of this kind of chart, available here.)
  • Create a central fund for innovation activity, versus getting funding from business units.
  • Design low-risk proof-of-concept tests.
  • Using a word like “growth” tends to limit the eye-rolling of stakeholders — compared to a word like “innovation.”
  • Communicate early and often; share your message many different ways to reach the largest audience.
  • Be a “chronic over-communicator.”
  • What message do you want to be received? What outcome do you want to inspire? Start with that, and tailor your communications accordingly.
  • Solicit ideas from the entire organization to help build a culture of innovation. Include associates at various levels within the organization on an advisory board.
  • Evangelize innovation and partnership success stories from other companies (not just cautionary tales like Blockbuster, Kodak, etc.)
  • Build internal and external networks of advocates and advisors.
  • Capture learnings that the organization wouldn’t otherwise get.
  • Go “underground” to avoid detection/conflict.
  • In risk-averse or highly-regulated organizations, understand the boundaries where you can innovate. What are the worst-case scenarios people fear, which you’ll need to avoid to gain their trust?
  • Create a council of innovation champions.
  • Have open, honest one-on-one conversations with others.
  • Find one person who will be supportive of your work in legal/risk/compliance. Once that person has approved what you’re doing, it can help you avoid or work through objections that others may have.
  • Cultivate a back-up sponsor/champion (in case your “first string” sponsor changes roles or leaves the organization).


  • Write off potential advocates. Sometimes you can convert people with education, demos, etc.
  • Get emotional. Focus on problem-solving.
  • Burn bridges.
  • Gossip or complain.
  • Say “yes,” but mean or think “no.
  • Say “no”; say “not now.”
  • Step outside your lane, if lanes are well-established in your organization.
  • Accept mediocrity.
  • Put financial/P&L constraints on projects at the early stages.
  • Let corporate bureaucracy creep into innovation efforts.
  • Take things personally.
  • Choose only friends/familiar people for governance boards or innovation councils.
  • Focus on cost-saving benefits that will reduce or eliminate jobs.
  • Give up.