Although many new products start on the back of a napkin or scrawled on the Innovation Lab whiteboard, ideation is not typically the first step for corporate innovation. Before enterprises can successfully pursue new ventures, innovators and leaders need clear understanding of how innovation projects will progress through the organization.

While many executives understand the basic need for innovation, corporate structures often trend for inertia, rather than innovation. Sometimes, even the most innovative companies struggle to build a framework which can support the generation of new ideas, identifying the right ones to pursue and resourcing those projects for success.

Building that framework requires communication across the entire organization and a deep grasp of the barriers to innovation. In agile development, many teams employ a collaborative tool called the Sailboat Exercise at the beginning of every project. This exercise asks leaders to imagine their company as a sailboat, then identifies metaphorical anchors, icebergs and headwinds which may impact the viability of your innovation department.

Though typically used to guide product development, it can be beneficial to view innovation as its own product, not simply a process. The Sailboat Exercise delivers a clear organizational view when aligning around innovation, yet the most valuable insights are often the roadblocks to new ideas.

Finding the Icebergs

Breaking down the barriers to innovation requires communication. While executives should lead the charge creating a culture of innovation, corporate change-makers have a responsibility to facilitate the conversations that drive innovation forward. Before organizations can break past the roadblocks to innovation – trust, incentives and risk – innovators must help the company identify where new ventures break down. That means bringing stakeholders around the organization to the table and pulling out hard truths.

Typical icebergs include:

    • Lack of incentives
    • Silos or turf wars across departments
    • Budgetary restrictions
    • Legal or IT compliance regulations that may limit development
  • Little tolerance for risk

There’s a world of difference between recognizing the need for innovation and actually creating an organization that supports it. Before innovators can get to work driving new projects forward, they need to help their companies create a framework for fostering new ideas.


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