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Long Live the Innovation Department; Kill the Innovation Department

In the corporate world, there are two primary forces that are getting in the way of innovation: bureaucracy and what I like to call the “tyranny of the served market.”

Organizational bureaucracy prevents the agility and speed that’s crucial for innovation, making the pursuit of new initiatives akin to slogging through mud. At the same time, the demands of markets and customers cause many companies to be too distracted or overwhelmed to explore ideas for new products or services. They’re also often blind to opportunities that fall outside the spectrum of existing lines of business.

Overcoming these limitations is only possible when corporations start thinking like a startup. This requires a two-pronged approach that incorporates two seemingly contradictory ideas: First, corporations need to build a formal innovation department where specific employees are resourced and responsible for driving innovation. Second, they need to foster a culture where venture thinking is adopted across the organization, empowering every employee to make innovation a part of their job.

Most corporations choose one side of this strategy over the other, changing either their organizational structure or culture in the name of innovation. The truth is, you need both to nurture a startup-like environment that gives birth to new ideas. Here’s how I advise corporate leaders to make it work: