Friday, September 2

Acquired Creativity

In media, last week's MacTaggart Lecture by Eric Schmidt of Google considered the UK's appetite for fostering sustained innovation.

Despite the critical responses, I'm sure there is more we could do here.  And given the difficulties (documented extensively on this site and elsewhere) that UK's largest enterprises have improving their creativity organically, perhaps a change in attitudes could be a 'win' for them too.

So what does large enterprise already do to encourage new ideas ...?
  • Feed and water a rather privileged R&D shop, with only loose measures for success
  • Periodically experiment with broader cultural change, suggestion schemes, rewards for new ideas, etc.
  • Decreasingly, license it's people to experiment with the way they get their tasks done
  • Occasionally sponsor extra-curricular work with charities, industry bodies and civic groups
It's all rather hit-and-miss.

So why not supplement (or re-assign some of) the R&D function to acquire ideas instead?

Some organisations are already trialling Open Innovation, and that's certainly one way to do it. But how about a direct approach?

Why not have a small team explore the emerging outputs of entrepreneurs in a wide range of fields, run "Dragons' Den"-like events to assess them, and set-up alongside the venture capitalists in licensing the ideas before they hit the market?  Or if the idea is strong enough, why not just acquire the small enterprise?

At least in principle, this idea ought to be sound, and one response to the Schmidt lecture suggests it's already happening - at least in pharmaceuticals.  This approach really leaves a lot less to chance than does the cultural change programme so beloved of the HR department!

So what does our Idea Acquisition Squad look like?

Let's start with a leader.  A leader who is a former serial entrepreneur, so thinks like the target audience, but also values ideas, knows about risk vs. reward, and recognises the virtues of a diverse portfolio.

Then let's have a couple of roving reporters, enthusiastic about innovation, varied in their backgrounds, and with good instincts about the market.

And finally, let's balance the team with an analyst, to keep them on the straight-and-narrow.  Ideally this should be someone who can fill in the gaps in any business case, combining management accountancy with substantial and applied market intelligence, and solid product development experience.

The legal and commercial teams would be waiting in the wings, but not a core part of the team.

If you run such a team then I'd love to hear all about it.  If not, then isn't it about time you did?

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