On June 14, the Nimble Hippo welcomed almost 150 people from across Canada to the first one-day Intrapreneurship Conference in Canada. It was an exciting day in which attendees heard from speakers from such large organizations as Thomson Reuters, Deloitte, Manulife, Purolator and RBC. Topics ranged widely but centred around the challenges large companies face in driving value through innovation activities.The main themes that emerged were surprisingly familiar to the large enterprise participants. Those themes were securing talent; committing to a process; being intentional; bringing proof; and solving big problems. Let’s get into a little for each topic.

Securing talent

Big companies struggle to attract, retain and engage innovators in their organization. With so many companies competing for a small pool of creative and technical people, job seekers have options. Graham King from Thomson Reuters told the conference audience about how the company looks to place labs in cities around the world that have the universities and technology ecosystems that fit its strategic innovation activities. Talent drives Thomson Reuters’ innovation strategy.

Diversity and inclusion also arose often in talent-related discussions. If you don’t have leaders with different backgrounds, different ages and different ways of thinking about the business, you’re not getting as much out of your innovation activities as you could. Look to fill your innovation roles with a diverse set of people to maximize ideas and valuable outcomes.

Committing to an innovation process

Innovation fails because of a lack of discipline, not a lack of ideas. Time and time again we heard examples of companies executing on successful innovation processes. Deloitte presented a case study in which rapid prototyping of mining wearables solved specific problems in a novel way, and is close to producing a customer-facing product.

Ian McDonald from the TD Lab at Communitech talked about the success of lean practices in his lab over the past two years. The lab’s process has consistently delivered high-quality prototypes and minimum viable products.

For companies that commit to a process and are open to unexpected outcomes, innovation activities can produce valuable products.

Being intentional

Innovation rarely happens by accident. It happens when companies use data, work hard to understand their customers, spend more time on understanding problems than solutions, and are transparent in their decision making.

By deploying good governance and following processes, large companies can drive value through their innovation projects more consistently. It doesn’t guarantee success, but it does reduce risk and improve the odds. We can’t predict the future, but if we can be intentional in trying to understand what the future looks like, we’ll have a better chance of capitalizing on it when the future becomes the present.

Using data to provide proof

As leaders of large companies try to understand where to invest limited innovation dollars, innovation teams need to use data to ensure confidence that there is a market, that customers are willing to pay for the product, and that it does what it is expected to do.

Build in customer validation early on in the innovation process to gain valuable feedback and insights for the prototype. If your prototype is digital, record your early customers’ every keystroke, screen touch and interaction. This will produce empirical data to use in comparisons as you test different versions and designs.

As prototype moves closer to product, keep testing and validating the technology and the problem so that you can provide senior leaders with the information they need to make good decisions and sound investments.

Solving big problems

Think big. Large organizations have big problems that can impact the entire organization. As an internal innovator, you need to think about creative solutions to large problems. Manulife’s SVP of Innovation, Stacey Grant-Thompson, spoke about the importance of seeding fundamental problems that are well-suited to innovative solutions, then providing the resources and talent to grow these solutions into something incredibly impactful.

In a corporate setting, this may take time, and innovators need to be patient, but the opportunity to solve large problems is worth the wait.

Communitech partnered with the Intrapreneurship Conference to bring this first-ever one-day conference to Canada. We were lucky to attract world-class speakers who could connect with a diverse set of attendees, who left with new tools they could apply immediately to their roles as intrapreneurs, but also with the inspiration that change is possible if they are patient, intentional and willing to think big.

Big companies face similar challenges: talent constraints, cultural challenges and speed to market are among the most common. By working in an open and collaborative environment, these big companies can start to move faster and take advantage the opportunities in front of them.

The Nimble Hippo looks at how large organizations can build innovative cultures and disruptive strategies by taking the best lessons from startup ecosystems and applying them in a big-company context.