How to Make Corporate Innovation Happen?

How is intrapreneurship defined, and how do we build our strategy to succeed as innovators? We spoke with Tendayi Viki, associate partner at Strategyzer and author of Pirates in the Navy about ways to make innovation happen in the corporate context. Strategyzer is a global leader in enterprise growth and innovation services. Find out about the key insights from Tendayi’s interview in this blog post.

Intrapreneurs vs. Entrepreneurs

The startup entrepreneur has become such a hero in the way we tell the innovation story, we tend to over-celebrate their success — to the detriment of the corporate innovator.

How do we distinguish entrepreneurship from intrapreneurship? Both pursuits require innovativeness, market awareness, intrinsic motivation, and proactivity, but intrapreneurs in particular also need a strategic approach, relationship-building skills, and political acumen. These latter traits are crucial in connecting an intrapreneur’s work to the core business. Tendayi has never worked on a single innovation that has succeeded without involvement from the core business! If you don’t know how to build relationships between your innovation lab or startup center and your core business, you will have difficulty finding success. This is the piece that has been lacking in the conversations around intrapreneurship.

Pirates vs. privateers

Steve Jobs said: He was referring to the inventiveness of startups, and their value in moving fast and breaking things. As we realize that large companies need to innovate too, however, the distinction between pirates and the navy makes no sense. In reality, it’s better to be a pirate in the navy if you want to succeed as an intrapreneur.

Pirates, however, are criminals. No one cares about what they bring back, and when they’re found, they’re more likely to be hung! Even better than being a pirate, therefore, is to be a privateer. Privateers are connected to institutions and typically work for a government. They’re sent to venture into new areas. They come back to mother countries that care about what they’ve brought back and anticipated receiving their work. Don’t be a pirate, be a privateer.

Pirates vs. Privateers

Innovating with authenticity

Tendayi’s most critical principle in the innovation space is authenticity. He encourages innovators and intrapreneurs to avoid the counterproductive bravado and falseness that can come with “acting the role of the entrepreneur”. How do we actually become “authentic” innovators? It’s important to avoid “innovation theater.” Innovation theater refers to activities that look like innovation but ultimately create no value. Idea competitions, hackathons, and innovation labs alone are not necessarily forms of innovation theater; it’s what happens afterward that’s crucial. If nothing happens to win ideas after competitions, or none of an innovation lab’s projects are taken to market, that’s innovation theater.

You have to go beyond the ideas. Focus on creating customer value and profitable business models. Innovation means the combination of great ideas that deliver value to customers and great business models to bring that value back into your organization.

The key ingredients of successful innovation.

Taking your innovation to market

Successfully taking your innovative products to market requires you to focus on a few areas:

Four innovation areas.
  • Desirability — making things people want
  • Feasibility — making things that are possible for your organization to build
  • Viability — making things that are profitable or have some impact on your organization
  • Adaptability — making things that can scale to be useful to your company

A common mistake innovation teams make is to just focus on ideas, then transition to sales to figure out how to sell them. This isn’t a great way to drive impact; the real goal is to get wins. Early wins that impact your organization are more likely to drive sustainable success.

Focus on creating value, and lose the ego. Egotistical innovators only create enemies.

While your team is building and testing your idea, you should be figuring out how the core business will help you scale it. Tendayi worked with a company whose innovation teams had to negotiate with legal and compliance from scratch for each new endeavor. During Tendayi’s consultation, the team brought legal and compliance into their conversations, sharing their innovation framework/model, and establishing when and how they needed to engage for the most effective process. Together they created a guidance document and dedicated resources to help innovation teams move faster. This was the infrastructure for other teams to also successfully innovate and was a great bridge between innovation teams and corporate!

Staying focused

When Tendayi works with organizations, he generates a 2x2 matrix to evaluate how well any endeavor addresses value creation and culture change.

2x2 matrix of culture change and value creation.

Companies often end up with many different entities trying to create their own innovation kingdoms, while none are interconnected to drive the same strategy. This matrix maps efforts to understand which programs are actually focused on creating value (revenue, growth) and which are focused on driving change (building bridges to the core, working with legal and compliance). The goal of innovation is to create value as you build good relationships and focus on doing authentic work.

Thank you for your time and guidance, Tendayi!

About the InnoDays

The InnoDays bring companies and talent together to prototype ideas with a positive impact in 48 hours. We guide our participants’ innovation journey with our training program before and after the event with inspiring input and helpful methods. Find out more about InnoDays on our website.

InnoInsights aims to be a source of inspiration and guidance for how organizations can collaborate with external innovators.