How Do You ‘Do’ Innovation? A Recap of the @HighStartGroup @MassTLC #unConf Session via @JanetMuto

  • December 2013
  • Posted By Janet Muto


“How do you bring innovative new product ideas to fruition?” That’s how I began my session at the 2013 MassTLC unConference last month in Boston. It didn’t take any more than that to spark an engaging conversation at one of the region’s most dynamic business events. Over twenty people participated, representing an eclectic mix of executives from large enterprises such as Tyco, Constant Contact, and General Electric, as well as a number of energetic, creative start-up entrepreneurs.

Big Company vs. Small Company – is there a difference?

One participant proclaimed that “you cannot do disruptive innovation within the constructs of an existing company.” That really got things going.

We’ve found through our research and experience that this is not the case. When an established company goes about their innovation program strategically, investing the necessary resources and implementing structural changes to protect and nurture innovation, it can work.

There was common agreement that to successfully execute on disruptive innovation within an existing enterprise, innovation incubators that are walled off from the company’s other divisions is the way to go. Keep it as independent as possible. “Only use the machine when it will help you, otherwise stay clear,” said the director of innovation at a quickly growing public company.

Ideas are only half the battle

I asked executives from the larger enterprises what they found to be their greatest innovation challenges. Many executives felt that idea generation was not the greatest issue. Many felt that idea vetting and selection were a challenge, but nearly all hands went up when it came to validation and execution: “How do I ensure that I have selected the right business model, functions etc. around the selected idea” and “how do I execute it successfully, while in its early stages?” were both key questions.

Testing with the Right Customers

When we discussed the use of customers as a validation resource, there was some disagreement among participants about tactics. Many used customers (lighthouse customers) as their guide for new products. However, many felt that there is a challenge with that approach – as customers are not necessarily the best judges of transformational products and services.

In the end, there was general agreement that you can use customers, but it’s critical that you find the RIGHT customer group to be effective, and that you balance customer validation with validation outside of your customer base.

The session was lively and provocative- proof that innovation remains a necessary but challenging goal for many companies.


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