Last night I had the great pleasure to give a lecture to students taking a Corporate Entrepreneurship course at Babson College. The students all had some sort of work experience (it is a graduate-level course). They have been studying the internal workings of innovation within corporations, and I was invited to present my experiences and answer questions.
I decided to start the class with an exercise. The questions below strike right at the heart of an important issue: finding the time to innovate. I split the class into four groups.
The groups each wrote down their thoughts and turned in their papers. I thought that I would share some of the more insightful answers that they came up with:
- One group stressed that any pitch to a manager should be "adjacent to another corporate idea or product". I couldn't agree more.
- Another group mentioned that a pitch to a manager should point to past successes (e.g. it helps to have a track record of productivity). This same group also advised having a list of internal supporters to bolster the idea.
- One group mentioned that articulating the customer need behind the idea is of primary importance.
- All groups agreed that it would be wise to fully understand the reasons behind the objection should the manager say "no".
- Several groups suggested "building a pilot using personal time" in the face of rejection.
This last bullet was the source of lively debate when I mentioned the option of "building a pilot using corporate time" in the face of rejection. We discussed the option of "skunkworks" and the concept of "apologize later".
I was asked directly if I had ever been "caught" working on a skunkwork project, and what the overall strategy should be to wriggle out of the situation.
The bottom line is that the skunkworks had better be backed by a strong customer need (as opposed to something randomly fun). If the employee has a successful track record, delivers quality results either on time or ahead of time, then getting caught trying to help customers is in reality something to be commended.
I'd like to thank the class and also Professor Ray Marcinowski. I enjoyed it tremendously and it appeared to me that the students learned something in the process.