Weekly Business Insights from Top Ten Business Magazines
Week 323 | Strategy & Business Model Section | 2
Extractive summaries and key takeaways from the articles curated from TOP TEN BUSINESS MAGAZINES to promote informed business decision-making | Since September 2017 | Week 323 | November 17-24 2023
Harness Your Network to Unlock Innovation
By Bill McEvily and Anne ter Wal | Harvard Business Review | November–December 2023 Magazine
Extractive Summary of the Article | Listen
Many corporate CEOs are unhappy with the level of innovation they’re getting for the billions they pour into R&D. One root cause of the low return, a large body of research suggests, lies in the managerial tendency to treat novel ideas as aberrations to be resisted. At each stage of the innovation process—from inception to integration to implementation—executives will either water down “deviant” ideas to make them fit within existing businesses or crush them altogether. However, the author believe that executives and innovators can combat this problem if they carefully harness their networks. Three particularly effective practices:
Find and Mobilize Innovation Catalysts. The first problem with novel ideas is, quite simply, that business leaders don’t come across them that often. The siloed nature of organizations means that for many managers, a big chunk of day-to-day interactions are with the same people in the same context. And though C-suite executives at large, diversified companies will naturally mix with managers from around the organization—not to mention with numerous formal and informal advisers outside it—many of them still gravitate toward like-minded people with similar experiences, expertise, and backgrounds. Research shows that leaders at genuinely innovative companies consciously avoid that trap by deliberately seeking and spending time with people we call innovation catalysts: individuals who have a knack for cultivating networks that combine a sense of community and a diversity of perspectives. Because these people have access to wide-ranging knowledge that is acutely relevant, they’re able to inspire new ideas and enhance their development. Leaders will have to invest time in getting to know members to find someone who checks all three boxes—generosity; deep, diverse ties; and a passion for unusual ideas.
Engage with Sparring Partners. Integrating a novel idea into a corporation’s existing production and marketing operations and getting it through legal and financial reviews almost always leads to conflicts. What makes an idea unique may also make it disrupt the smooth operation of the mainstream business. Leaders who engage with internal sparring partners about a new idea will boost the chances that it will eventually fuse—rather than clash—with the company’s core mission. After identifying a sparring partner, a leader should reach out to others who are knowledgeable about the partner’s domain but aren’t in the partner’s network. The leader should also encourage the partner to likewise look for advisers in the leader’s domain who aren’t close to the leader. That will set the two colleagues up to do what the authors call dual networking and gather a fusion of perspectives that will enhance a new idea.
Selectively Sequence Your Idea’s Introduction. Even leaders who effectively mobilize innovation catalysts to cultivate out-of-the-ordinary ideas and who leverage sparring partners to transform them into compelling business propositions may still fall short. Unless you can get buy-in to the value-creating potential of novel ideas across the organization, the risk of their derailment looms large. Smart leaders meet this challenge by “sequencing their circles.” This means stress-testing the idea initially with an inner circle of confidants who provide candid but constructive feedback on it and then vetting it with larger circles of pragmatic skeptics whose blessing can give it greater legitimacy.
3 key takawas from the article
- Many corporate CEOs are unhappy with the level of innovation they’re getting for the billions they pour into R&D. One root cause of the low return, a large body of research suggests, lies in the managerial tendency to treat novel ideas as aberrations to be resisted.
- At each stage of the innovation process—from inception to integration to implementation—executives will either water down “deviant” ideas to make them fit within existing businesses or crush them altogether.
- Executives and innovators can combat this problem if they carefully harness their networks by: finding and mobilizing catalysts in external networks who help launch ideas, engaging with internal sparring partners to turn those ideas into viable business propositions, and selectively sequencing the introduction of ideas within your social circles in the company to stress-test them and gradually gain buy-in.
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Topics: Innovation, Strategy