New Book: Five Ways to Innovate Inside Bureaucracies

By Collin Robisheaux, Kaitlin Milliken |  September 16, 2021

Haseltine and Gilbert recently spoke with InnoLead to discuss their top strategies for innovating within a big bureaucracy, and other concepts from “Riding the Monster.” Key takeaways from the conversation follow. 


  • “Ride it, don’t fight it!” Haseltine and Gilbert each recommend unorthodox ways of steering innovation inside a corporate giant. “Instead of having formal innovation groups, processes, and structures, we advocate the exact opposite,” Haseltine said. “We advocate working through informal networks inside the company first. And we give examples on how to do that.”

  • Inside Disney – Haseltine worked at Disney with Mike Goslin, who pushed his own innovative idea through the bureaucratic space: augmented reality in the form of “Jedi Challenges,” a Star Wars-based lightsaber visualization built entirely through AR. “It is today one of the best-selling augmented reality headsets on the market,” Haseltine says. “And it was done in just under 18 months for only a few million dollars.”

  • There are multiple examples of successful innovation projects inside of corporate bureaucracies. For example, according to Haseltine and Gilbert, the mRNA vaccine used to develop the COVID-19 vaccinations we know today would not have been possible without Katalin Karikó, a Hungarian biochemist who used informal connections to get through corporate roadblocks and contribute to the betterment of medicine. “The formal hierarchy wouldn’t fund her, but through these informal connections she was able to start the work,” Haseltine says.

  • Deviating from straight lines – Haseltine recommends that bureaucratic innovators move away from the straight edges of the corporate space, and look for “wiggly lines” – informal connections with others who can help. “If you want to do something that’s outside the formal, rigid hierarchy, you can’t stay within that hierarchy,” Haseltine says. “You have to start by working the wiggly lines. Work your relationships.”

  • Use informal gatherings – Haseltine and Gilbert each recommend getting together with colleagues around the organization informally and plotting out an innovation project. “[The early internet pioneer] Steve Crocker had a great line about informal gatherings,” Haseltine says. “‘before the bits could travel for our network, our butts had to travel to get together.”