Selecting and Supporting Worthwhile Ideas in Established Organizations

How do you select and support promising ideas within a corporate accelerator program? We asked Michael Nichols, lead of the Bosch Accelerator Program, this question. Bosch Accelerator Program is designed to innovate in the corporate context and take initial ideas to businesses that scale profitably.

Selecting worthwhile ideas

Selecting worthwhile ideas is the hardest thing in corporate innovation. You must be careful not to believe that you know better than everyone else. Most ideas won’t work, and nobody can pick a winner upfront. Too much initial idea filtering will result in killing ideas before you know if they are right. So, test as many ideas as possible, as cheaply as possible.

You should look for something that can use the company's capabilities, at scale, in a new way, for instance, new ways to reach customers and unlock a value chain. Obtaining buy-in from the business units should be a vital part of the ideation process. Business units need to hit their targets. If you innovate away from the core business, you’re a cost to those business units, and you’re most likely to fail. You need always to verify that your customer segment has a problem and that addressing it will be interesting for your organization.

To assess whether ideas are worthwhile, Michael suggests considering the following five dimensions:

Strategic relevance

The idea needs to be connected to the corporate strategy to align with senior leadership. If it is not, the corporate innovation budget will die, even if it’s a good idea for the world.

Competitiveness in the corporate portfolio

How attractive is the idea versus other ways the corporation could be using its resources? How much value does it hold for the internal investor?

Potential customers

The idea needs to relate to a customer segment with a real challenge; you can help them solve it better than today. What is the qualitative value you offer, the pain you resolve? How do you measure that pain?

Solving big problems

Is there justification for the scale of the solution; is the customer segment repeatable? Is there potential for volume (many people have this problem) or impact (in the social sense)?

Business feasibility

Can the organization build the solution? Does it have the channels to make it in a scalable way? How much does it cost to acquire customers? How will you track what drives the value for customers? Early on, often, it won’t be revenue.

Michael Nichols during the interview

Supporting ideas all the way

Selecting worthwhile ideas is a process rather than a one-off activity. An initial team needs to go out and validate an idea. Usually, the first idea won’t work out, and the team discovers another problem, which implies a different business model that needs other skills. In this case, it is necessary to do a team assessment and reexamine whether there is a skill set match. Likely, the initial team won’t have all the skills needed for the new model. It is essential to be transparent that the team may need to transform during the process. To effectively support ideas, innovation teams have to be open to change. Everything depends on what the team discovered during validation, and team members who start the journey may not be the ones who finish it.

Human resources need to stay alert to the organizational implications of the innovation process. The organization needs to provide, from a high level, incentives to allow employees to innovate full time. Part-time innovation doesn’t work; it’s a full-time job to complete all the validation steps. Managers must feel compelled to allow their talent to leave and allow them to return. As for employees themselves, most are motivated by doing something new, doing something impactful, and learning a new skill.

Thank you for a great session, Michael!

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.