Thursday, July 23, 2009

Welcome to the Innovation Department

I met with a huge multinational conglomerate and wandered through various lines of security and x-raying only to be shuttled to a holding area before I was finally greeted by our "host," who I then followed through several hallways into yet another secure area, where we met with the "Innovation Team."

The Innovation guys were great - they were, well, innovative. Lots of great ideas and enthusiasm.

But the experience left me with a lot of questions. Why have an "Innovation Department" at all? Wouldn't that imply that the rest of the company isn't innovative, that the employees didn't feel their calling was to be innovative - unless, of course, they were in the Innovation Department? How innovative, for that matter, is the name "Innovation Department?"

I wonder - perhaps the CEO said that they needed to be innovative and therefore that meant creating that department. But how will a small department alone be able to change that culture? Sounds pretty tough.

Shouldn't all of us be inspired and expected to be innovative? Wouldn't creating an "Innovation Department" all but guarantee that the corporation will not be focused on innovation? We have to watch that, despite all good intentions, that we can create an environment that actually works against our vision.

Barry LaBov
LaBov and Beyond


  1. Barry,
    Sadly, what you describe is more common than not in large firms. Despite PR to the contrary, innovation is trumped by rule-following, and treated as a function - to be "departmentalized."
    Innovation often threatens the status quo (structure, predictability, hierarchy). Hierarchical firms naturally marginalize innovation by treating innovation as any other "business unit" - complete with a VP, a P&L and standard performance metrics.
    Often, any true innovation is killed along the way, since paths to explore viability of the innovation ironically use the same criteria (old) to judge the "fit" of the (new) innovation.
    By putting "outside-the-box" inside a box, the risks, expenses, and rewards are limited. This model provides a comfort zone for many old line companies, while the lip-service on innovation flows on.
    Rare is the company that encourages risks, potential and actual "failures," and a culture that encourages creativity and rebellion against "the way things are."
    This is why many creative people take themselves, and their ideas, and launch startups - outside of the corporate mothership.

  2. Great comment. I love the "putting outside the box' inside the box."