Medium to large sized organizations are always trying to find ways they can increase their innovation quotient.
Look no further than the Shark Tank TV show where entrepreneurs come to pitch their ideas and hopefully win investment.
The next time your organization is thinking about getting a department, a division, any portion of the firm together to share information etc…think about doing a “Shark Tank”.
- Break your people up into teams that each represent a nice segmentation of roles, depts, whatever you think will give them the tools, variety, and creativity they need. The best size is probably 5-6 people per team
- Task each team with coming up with a creative effective idea for your dept, division, whatever.
- Give them a very limited time (maybe 3-4 hours) to discuss what their idea should be, work it out a bit, and come up with a pitch that includes cost vs. benefit.
- Build a team of sharks that includes both management and savvy/trusted non-management. They will be the panel that reviews all the teams ideas
- Have the teams present (don’t allow management to present) for up to 10 minutes in front of everybody
- Allow for 5 mins of Q&A from the Sharks in-front of everybody.
- Do some online polling in waves after 4 or so have presented so that people remember which ones each of them are.
- Give the sharks the results of the polls, but let them pick the winner from among each wave.
- If the sharks want to negotiate with one of the teams to drop or add parts of the idea, they can.
After your get together is over, the winning team(s) should be given some additional time (maybe 20 hours) to continue enhancing and fleshing out their idea. They should get an opportunity to pitch again in a more prepared fashion. The shark tank panel should also be prepared this time around. If you have enough teams in the second round, you may even want a third round.
Keep the full population of your original dept, division, full organization (whatever you started with) apprised of the progress. Who did you pick and why?
A session like that will be fun for your team, will get their innovation juices flowing, will get each team of cross-functional employees to know each other well in order to build bridges across groups after the session, and will hopefully create a pipeline of possible projects for your org.
Keep a summary of each pitch along with the people involved and a link to any powerpoint or other images they presented. You never know when a non-winning idea will spark a winning one outside of the Shark Tank “game”.
Post in the comments if you have done anything like this in your organization and whether it was successful.
Those of us who are trying to help ours or a consulted business get to “Future Business” can be called “Intrapreneurs”.
If you are one of these people, you should take some time for Guy Kawasaki’s excellent books about start-ups. “Reality Check” is primarily about brand-new start-ups, but it has many important messages for those of us who attempt to innovate within companies.
You may not have to deal with hiring new resources or tracking down angel/VC financing, but you certainly do need to build a good team and you do need someone to dedicate budget to your idea. Buy’s lessons about how to direct your efforts are very helpful.
Below are my spin on some of Guy’s advice
- Kill the cash cows – In his words, “Cash cows are wonderful – but you should milk them but not sustain them until, pun intended, the cows come home”. He suggests that if you do not innovate, two kids in a garage will do it for you.
- Reboot your brain – Most practices inside a large company are designed in successive stages (eg. Check with everybody, get consensus, focus groups, design, re-design, test, test, launch in the same old way as always) and/or designed for evolutionary continuous improvement. These will not work for a brand new idea
- Find a separate building – He suggests that the building be nearby but distinctly separate and distinctly low-budget to create an air of suffering. Swan Note: be careful here if integration with the parent is essential. You do not want to be seen as outsiders if you need any of the parent depts. for your success
- Hire infected people – Passion is paramount. Obviously resources must be capable, but do not focus too heavily on background/skills to the detriment of passion.
- Give hope to the hopeless – as you are able to achieve some level of success, those in the company who are frustrated by the bureaucracy will reach out to you. Maintain a relationship with those people. You need all the support you can get.
- Put the company first – remember that you are not a 100% entrepreneur. You are part of a larger company. Keep your employer’s best interests front of mind at all times. You will face challenges because some will react violently to any conflict of interest with a cash cow.
- Stay under the radar – once you have the initial buy-in and budget, resist the temptation to continue growing your executive sponsorship. It will create more flak than air-cover. If they come to you, then show them you are working on it and wherever possible make them believe it was their idea. Swan Note: if you are going to need effort from other depts., get the buy-in from that dept up front. Once you are in full swing, you may be perceived as a threat to the core and therefore get push back.
- Collect and share data – be prepared with all of your cost and revenue projections so that when attacks come, you are prepared
- Dismantle when done – help everyone who participated both re-integrate with the parent and hopefully improve it for their experience
There are so many other great ideas in this Guy’s book. If it’s not already in your library, I highly recommend it. As Frans Johansson discusses in his book the Medici Effect, breakthrough ideas often come from alternate disciplines. So, even if you are not an entrepreneur, you will likely gain some insights about how to better innovation in your job.
Best of luck with your own intrapreneurship. Please post your comments regarding best practices you experience.