How to fund discontinuous innovation

I have just met two different leaders from two different companies who were both bemoaning the lack of funds for the step-jump type of innovation.

Here is my suggestion.

Ask every line manager to donate 3-5% of his or her budget to a special innovation fund. Granted, this will not win you a popularity contest, but it will generate an incremental, potentially large fund for your next innovation projects.

This one dramatic move has a number of advantages:

1.    You can now fund the large, risky but big pay-off ideas.

2.    Because the funds have been borrowed from each of the line managers they have a vested interest in where the dollars are being spent. This creates a marketplace for ideas within the organisation. Each leader can have access to all or some of the innovation fund dollars, depending on the strength of their ideas rather than the strength of their position or personality.

3.    This type of fund also copes more easily with cross-functional projects where the pay-off crosses traditional business unit boundaries.

4.    The other advantage is symbolic. It says to the rest of the organisation that “we are serious about innovation, there are no excuses any more – we want your big, bold new ideas”.

Setting up an innovation fund for special (not incremental) projects needs to be supported by a fast-track approval process. These ideas by their very nature involve risk and are outside a business-as-usual approach. Hence, the most senior leaders need to be involved early and give the go ahead (or otherwise) quickly.

Just start and see what happens. Pilot the program for a quarter and fund some projects. Successful innovation requires more innovative approaches.

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