Five Innovation Best Practices to Kick Off March

By Kaitlin Milliken |  March 2, 2020

Why does General Mills ask former customers to write them a breakup letter? What are the dangers of opening an innovation outpost in Silicon Valley? Our main stage speakers at Impact 2019 tackled these questions and shared other advice for corporate innovators.

We released one video from the event each week this month. Start watching the main stage sessions here, and if you’re interested in joining us for the event in 2020, learn more here. We have also gathered five best practices from our February online coverage below.

Only Break the Rules You Understand

“Obviously [as an innovator], you’ll be breaking rules, both formal and informal. (The informal stuff can be trickier.) By understanding why these rules were there in the first place; who built them; and for what reasons, you can build the narrative and the story of why you need different rules, and different ways of working to do new things,” writes David Gram, a former intrapreneur at LEGO. “That understanding can help you onboard people from Finance, Legal, Procurement, Compliance. They are the gatekeepers who want things to stay as they are.”

Gram helped launch LEGO’s first crowdsourcing initiative and the company’s first hybrid digital/physical product, “Life of George.” Find out Gram’s four other essential habits for successful corporate intrapreneurs.

Ensure that Data Trumps Opinion

According to Stefan Thomke, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, many innovation decisions are driven by intuition. “The danger is…if we are driven by biases or by opinions, we tend to make mistakes,” he says. “If you want to create an experimentation organization, you need to create an environment…where the data trumps opinions.”

However, Thomke says, “It doesn’t mean that you have to always blindly follow the experiment when other considerations are in play.” He points to the Netflix show “Grace & Frankie,” which stars Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda. Ads that featured Tomlin alone resulted in more clicks, but the company ultimately ran images with both actors. “The concern was that if they exclude Jane Fonda, they would alienate the actress and even possibly violate the contract,” Thomke explains, “the experimental evidence actually added clarity to the decision, so at least they couldn’t pretend that they’re running this image of both actresses because customers would be more responsive.”

Read the full interview with Thomke for more best practices on building an experimental culture.

Find the Non-Controversial Use Case for New Technology

“There’s a phrase in technology: ‘The future is already here. It’s just unevenly distributed,'” explained Chris Anderson on the main stage of Impact 2019. Anderson is the CEO of the drone software company, 3DR. “The question is not when, but where? Where can technology be deployed in a way that won’t be controversial, or will seem net good?”

As an example, Anderson pointed to a retirement community in Florida that has a fleet of autonomous vehicles. The cars operate in a gated community, not a public road, and give independence to older adults. “There’s no controversy whatsoever. Total win-win,” he says. “Take those same models to the streets of San Francisco, and it’s a shit show.”

Get more insights from Anderson in our latest podcast or check out a video of his full main stage session.

When Acquiring Startups, Look for Culture Fit

Raphael Guillet knows both sides of acquiring startups. He was a co-founder of the first startup that $4 billion Accor purchased, in 2014. Now, he works with startups that have recently been acquired by the hospitality company

Assessing culture fit — an important component of ensuring that a startup can create value after an acquisition — should happen during the due diligence period, he advises. “We don’t expect them to have the exact same culture as Accor, but it needs to be compatible, unless you’re really just buying the assets. If you feel like the culture is not right, [the acquisition is] not going to work,” Guillet says.

Get five other best practices for startup acquisition.

Partnering Across the Organization to Get Buy-In

Innovators must appeal to two types of “customers,” writes contributing columnist Chris Mayer: external consumers who purchase the product and stakeholders within organizations. When looking for internal buy-in, Mayer suggests, “Partner across the organization. … It’s this larger team that sees opportunities, overcomes challenges, and brings unique insights to the process to make change happen. … Departments across the organization are partners who contribute unique skills, share the same customers, and are working toward the same ends.”

Get five tips for gaining customer support — both internal and external