Does big business innovation matter in a world that prefers start-ups to corporations?

The world needs the market-changing potential of corporate creativity

Innovation isn’t just for the little guys. It’s important for businesses of all sizes.

True innovation is a seamless mix of creativity and implementation, created to solve a human problem and create business value. Much greater than a big idea or new piece of tech, it’s about bringing ideas to life, to make everyone’s lives better.

We call the individuals and teams who succeed in big business innovation corporate entrepreneurs. That’s because they use the mindset and methods of entrepreneurs to see ideas through to market.

Why’s big business innovation so important?

When big businesses get behind a great new idea, the impact can be huge. They can help save us time and money, provide us with energy and protect our environment. They can even improve our health and extend our lives: that’s why innovation from established companies has the greatest potential to make the world better.

Plus, if you work for a large organisation, embracing innovation and avoiding stagnation is the best way to ensure enduring business success.

Every big company’s hiding hundreds of potentially perfect ideas, but it can be hard to harness them. Plus established organisations find it notoriously tricky to get innovation right. The whole process is a little wild and unpredictable by its very nature – not every swing will be a big hit. Innovators need room to iterate, experiment and learn through trial and error; that’s pretty different to traditional process improvement projects or ‘business as usual’ activities.

To stay relevant to your customers and one step ahead of the competition, you must keep doing new and better things. Innovative, progressive companies can even command an ‘innovation premium’, perpetuated by their ability to attract and retain the best talent. So it can even result in stock market value.

Taking the pulse of UK innovation today

Big company CEOs often declare that innovation’s at the top of their agenda, without always successfully harnessing its potential. So to get a close-up view of the facts, we’ve created the first national survey of innovation…as seen from the inside. That’s the Innovation Insider Index, which asked industry Insiders to score their own companies on their innovation activity and find the UK’s Top 30 businesses for innovation today.

Get your own Inside edge by downloading the full report now. Not only can you discover if your company made the Top 30; you’ll see who did best at what, and get our commentary and insight on the results.

Do you agree with the Top 30? Are the principles of innovation embodied in your company? Let us know: join the conversation on Twitter #innovatebig.

Innovation not big enough? Challenge the business model!

I have just returned from the Chief Innovation Officer Summit in San Francisco and the Intrapreneurship Conference in London. Both were good events with lots of discussion, but there was one question that kept coming up. How do big businesses achieve significant scale from their new products? – Otherwise it is simply not worth doing as it won’t “move the needle”.

This seems logical, but the flipside is that many good ideas can be killed simply for being too small. Often these small ideas form the ‘quick wins’ that create a positive perception and maintain the revenue to keep an innovation team intact whilst they focus on bigger, long term opportunities.

So the challenge becomes how do you get these small ideas through in a business looking for the big idea?

I asked that question to over 60 innovation executives in researching my new book, The Secrets of Big Business Innovation, and found a common response: challenge the business model. If the investment is small enough and the time and hassle factor insignificant, then these small projects can get through successfully.

There are a range of examples of ways of doing this from licensing IP, to setting up a consultancy, but my favorite is an example from my own experience at Tesco:

“Our team was searching for new revenue ideas and, when visiting a number of our petrol forecourts, (‘gas stations’ for the American readers!) we noticed that many of the air and water machines were out of service. Back at the office, we found that this was indeed a common issue; it seemed that as they were a free extra service, they were low on the priority list for the maintenance teams and this in turn was driving customer complaints at the petrol stations.

Having worked through some ideas, we trialled a paid for service at 3 sites. With revenue associated with the machines we’d be able to increase profit and the machines would be better maintained. This trial was successful with high usage of the machines at the three sites and almost no complaints.

However, the business was not prepared to invest in hundreds of new machines with payment mechanisms. Whilst it was a reasonable business case, there were simply bigger fish to fry.

However, rather than forget the idea, one of the team came up with the idea to auction off the rights to the machines, whereby a supplier would install and maintain the machine at their expense in exchange for a percentage of the revenue it generated (Tesco kept the rest). Due to the revenue share, the supplier was naturally incentivised to keep the machines up and running.

The scheme took off. The complaints dropped to insignificant levels, we’d saved our maintenance teams a headache, customer satisfaction at the petrol stations actually increased, a small supplier had a big growth opportunity and, with minimal investment, we’d generated millions of new revenue that went straight to the bottom line.”

So don’t let good ideas die from being too small – challenge the business model and reap the benefits of what is often a faster, cheaper launch and a quick success for your team. This doesn’t get around the fact that you still need big new opportunities, but it may well buy you time to develop them.