In a bid to avoid the stifling bureaucracy within their company, intrapreneurs often create innovation labs that are separate units from the main organization. Not only do they seek to be physically separate but they also actively avoid aligning the work they do in the lab with the strategic goals of their company. While this may provide an initial, positive feeling of freedom to be creative, it is not a good long term strategy for sustaining innovation.
A month ago, I was in the United States working with an innovation team at one of the large financial institutions in the Midwest. They had invited me to help them craft their strategic guidance for choosing innovation projects to pursue. During our meeting, one member of the team explained to me why they had decided to do more work to clarify their innovation strategy.
When they first started working on innovation, they used to call themselves the home for homeless ideas. They viewed themselves as the place where people with ideas that the main business did not want to work on would come for support. They would nurse these ‘unwanted’ ideas, give them resources, test and validate them. Sounds like a great role for an innovation team, right?
Well, the intrapreneur I was speaking to made one statement that speaks to the fallacy of the separate and independent innovation lab. He said:
“After a while we realised that if an idea is homeless when it gets here, it will be homeless when it leaves!”
What this reflects is the reality that innovation labs have to face. It might be fun to work on early stage ideas without any interference from the mother company. But there comes a time when those ideas will need approval and a larger investment of resources to scale. It is at this moment that the lack of alignment with the main company can rear its ugly head.
Most innovation labs struggle with finding leaders inside the organization that will give them the resources needed to scale the ideas they are working on. This is why, it is important that intrapreneurs align with their leadership in terms of the strategic goals for innovation. We need to make sure that we are working on ideas that have a good chance of being taken to scale by our company. We don’t want our labs to be the home for homeless ideas.