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.