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The problem with Corporate Innovation teams being a Virus

Faizan Patankar on 7 July 2019

In my time at Rolls-Royce, I was the founding member of the Corporate Innovation team in 2018. And internally at Rolls-Royce, and in a number of corporate innovation conferences, I kept hearing one thing. Those of us in corporate innovation or digital innovation are like viruses that are outside the realms of corporate processes and structures.

I fundamentally disagreed with it, every single time.

Corporate Innovation teams in large organisations often pride themselves being outside the DNA of the mother organisation.

That's counter-productive.

It leads to innovation silos

Corporate innovation teams are new

Aren't we meant to break down and simplify the very legacy processes and culture? Building a side-track or going out of the process isn't really my answer.

For me, corporate innovation teams have to continually work hard at bringing the larger part of the corporate on a journey of change.

Let me give an example, large corporates set-up procurement with all the processes that were useful and needed at some point in time. These are meant to work.

And then comes along corporate innovation teams, these are generally newer to large orgs. The fact is that the procurement processes haven't taken into account this new way of working - so it's entirely possible that the existing procurement processes don't work.

So, a bad way of continuing to work is to use the un-usable process. Instead, it is better to work with the procurement team very early and build a simplified process that mitigates risk.

Make this new process, part of the procurement. Don't circumvent the rules. Change them to do the right thing.

This is one example from many.

My point being, stop thinking corporate innovation teams are special. That very mindset is what's lead to large corporates becoming slow in innovation.

PS: We also need to talk about rebranding work altogether.

When you build a team and badge them with the word "innovation" - you build a wall for the rest of the organisation.

Corporate Innovation isn't a team, it's a mindset

And for corporate innovation teams to succeed, we need to stop thinking we are like a virus that doesn't fit the corporate DNA. On the contrary, we are like a kid who is trying to act smarter than it's parents. Both think they know better when really one has the experience and the other has the boldness that can open up opportunity.

Working together is the best option. And that begins with stopping corporate innovation teams thinking they are special.

So no, I don't like to think that I want to be part of a team that thinks it's a virus. The problem with viruses is that they are forever working in survival mindset - which if you are not used it, can cloud how you think.

Startups in survival mode do well - because they go and attack, knowing they don't have much to lose.

Corporates in survival mode don't do well - because they go and defend, knowing they have lots to lose.

So you see, survival mode in anything doesn't necessarily work for corporates.

Now, I am not saying corporate innovation teams are unnecessary or bad. I am saying that corporate innovation teams have to give up this fascination that they are "viruses" in a corporate world and stay in survival mode.

Photo by Pineapple Supply Co. on Unsplash