Excuse me, can we talk about the whale in the room?

Some organisations seem to have it all – R&D departments, corporate innovation teams, internal incubators, external accelerators, agile teams with multi-coloured sticky notes on glass walls and more. Some organisations have just some of this, others have almost none.

Nevertheless, at a certain size, many companies find the effort it takes to develop and deploy innovative ideas increases disproportionately to the success rate.

Having been involved in corporate incubators, been part of innovation spin-outs and worked within nimble R&D teams in large organisations, I’ve seen some of the factors at work first-hand. And there’s many of them.

Whether its the onerous business cases needed to support the initiative, which seem to conflict the ambition to tolerate a fail-fast environment, or the recursive stakeholder buy-in processes, or the sheer time it takes to get a project supported enough to get to kick-off, most can be characterised as Whale syndrome.

David Feeny, a prominent British academic, is often cited as developing the Dolphins vs Whales analogy as part of change management and transformation. The analogy is based on the fact that whales surface for air less frequently than dolphins – 90 minutes vs 15-20 minutes, if you were wondering.

From our conversations, we see this analogy surfacing in many places, in many forms. The most relevant to our business is in the process of innovating in large organisations.

Often, R&D groups are solving big, strategic questions and accelerators and incubators are limited in numbers and areas of focus, with a mid-to-long term focus. Whilst the inner workings of these can be built on highly iterative, agile processes, the delivery of value to the business is often more Whale than Dolphin.

Of course, this has pros and cons. If the problem you’re trying to solve is linear, following a known trajectory allowing you to plan sufficiently far ahead with sufficient confidence, then the pros can outweigh the cons.

Alternatively, if the outcome is less well known, if the success is dependent on market response and that can’t be predicted with confidence, or if the need is to move quick, to learn adapt and change direction then it could pay to be more Dolphin than Whale.

A more nimble approach

Adopting a more Dolphin-like approach to corporate innovation can lead to more significant, more impactful results over a shorter time frame than an equivalent objective using the Whale approach.

Taking this approach helps combat some of the progress-slowing challenges we’ve all had expereince of in larger organisations, including:

Smaller teams – less agreement by committee means things get done more quickly
Quicker time to demonstration – helps to more quickly evangelise the innovation and get stronger buy-in
More responsive – adjust to changes in market need, faster with less impact on the rest of the business
Lower risk – adjust to changes in market need, faster with less impact on the rest of the business

InnovationScouts.tech work along side your teams, acting as your school of dolphins to discover the technology innovators and partners you need to deliver to your customer demands. Find out more about how we work with organisations like your’s here.

If you have challenges getting things done through the corporate innovation and R&D department, have missed out on getting your needs supported in the latest accelerator open call, or simply don’t have enough time to find the things you know your customers deserve, then we really should speak.

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Scott Stonham
Scott Stonham

Scott is Chief Technology & Innovation Officer at InnovationScouts.tech. He has been at the forefront of many technologies we take for granted today, including mobile internet and smartphone navigation. Today he helps clients navigate innovative emerging technologies and is available for speaking opportunities.

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