Unleashing Corporate Innovation

In today’s world, large corporations are embracing open innovation through new partnerships, entrepreneurial spirit, and existing capabilities. Open innovation expands the potential sources of innovation far beyond the bounds of any single organization with the explicit purpose of accelerating internal innovation and expanding markets for external use of innovation. In this new world, corporations are better positioned to innovate as they create new communities conducive to collaboration and open thinking. The impact is enormous as organizations foster the development of transformational cultures and invest in the talent needed to cultivate this new paradigm.

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to participate in Stanford University’s Design School whose motto is “Design thinking is rooted in the principle that to design a great product or service, one must develop empathy for and deep insight into the customer’s behaviors and needs.

Our cross functional team was put through a rapid ideation prototyping process to solve a simple customer problem. Without the use of any technology, we were armed with children’s art tools, scissors, glue, paper, pipe-cleaners, etc. Each team started the development process by asking questions, rapidly generating multiple ideas and testing them. The goal was to move through the design phase by listening to the voice of the customer who provided insight to generate new and better ideas.

With a bias toward action, fostering a culture of ideation prototyping by interdisciplinary teams helps organizations gain important insight into building cohesive communities of innovation.

These internal groups have the potential to contribute to an organization’s success by managing current business goals and objectives while being flexible and adaptable to meet future changes and demands.

One such community exists under the umbrella of an innovation contest sometimes referred to as an Innovation Showcase. These programs allow more employees to become involved in the creative process and encourages them to offer technical and operational insights that will increase their company loyalty and a sense of pride and ownership. This past October, I was given the task of fostering and increasing enterprise innovation via EMC’s annual, internal Innovation Conference and Showcase. Since 2007, EMC employees have submitted more than 8,000 ideas, resulting in millions of dollars of benefit to the company’s bottom line while extending our industry leadership. For example, a “Cloud Computing Curriculum,” submitted by a team from the EMC Ireland Center of Excellence (COE), has been fully incubated and now manifests itself as a degree program in cloud computing at the Cork Institute of Technology.

The success and ultimate benefits of innovation communities are growing. Some of these communities are funded and supported with the sole purpose of building the spirit of innovation.

For example, Rick Bess, former Idea Mentor at Adobe was responsible for coaching Adobe innovators to cultivate and get funding for their ideas. In the world of non-profit organizations and early-stage entrepreneurs, MassChallange is an independent non-profit startup company solely motivated to support and strengthen high-impact, early-stage entrepreneurs – no strings attached. The World Summit on Innovation and Entrepreneurship was held in Boston in the fall of 2012 and “sets the scene for some of the world’s eminent dreamers and doers to plot the new frontier of the smarter innovation economy.”

Communities of innovation function as catalysts for creating the conditions in which big companies can shift from shackling innovation to unleashing it and we all have an opportunity to participate and invest in unleashing innovation inside our corporate walls.

About the Author: Sheryl Chamberlain