Sunday, October 28, 2012

Why Big Companies Can’t Innovate

I would title this “Why Big Companies Won’t Innovate” because I believe they can, if they want to.  This article struck a chord with me because the company I work for is large and change is excruciatingly slow.   They have developed cute slogans with titles like “Simply Dare” daring employees to innovate.  It feels more like a marketing campaign than a program for real innovation.  Why?  Real innovation requires investment, it requires a culture that accepts failure as part of the package for innovation, and it requires that you break the rules.  I work for a company that has processes for processes - we are a governance rich company.  Innovation is not an idea…innovation is an idea that is acted upon, designed, tested and redesigned. 
Another reason big companies are not as good at innovating may be because they police their staffing levels to ensure efficiency.  Bare bones staffing overworks the employees and leaves them feeling sapped.  It would be counter-intuitive to corporate managers to encourage employees to take a walk, play a game, or go home early, because that wouldn’t seem efficient to them.  This “down time” is the incubation period necessary for solving complex problems; these solutions often elude the conscious mind. Organizations that are too lean sacrifice ideas for efficiency.
The timing of this article is ironic.  Just this morning I had some ideas for a program I’d like to put together and launch, first at my manufacturing site, but then I’d like to pitch it to the Manufacturing Steering Committee, in an effort reach the entire organization.  I don’t want to share the details in this forum, because if it is as successful as I believe it can be, it may become intellectual property.  It is aimed at teaching the corporation how to become a culture that fosters innovation.  It’s risky, because the culture of the German giant that I work for is controlling and risk adverse, but I am so passionate about it, I’m going to pursue it. It’s a terrific dream, but unless I can sell it all the way to the top, it won’t matter.  Implementation for this, as it is for innovation, is critical.  So, what would happen if I broke the rules completely and went straight to the top with the idea… or maybe push it out to all the executives at once – talk about risky! I wouldn’t do this until after the pilot is complete and successful. 


  1. Jeanine,

    GREAT post! :)

    I love how you suggested to change the title from "Why big companies can't innovate" to "Why big companies won't innovate". As I mentioned in my post, these larger companies should offer a program like Google utilizes for its employees to provide the time for employees to pursue an idea.

    Another great point that you bring up is not just providing the time for employees to innovate but accepting the entire concept of innovation, the pros and the cons (the investment, accepting failures). Many companies do not find this efficient as you said, but if they just took the time it could provide an innovation, or method to do something better or faster.

    I also like your idea for teaching corporations how to become a culture that fosters innovation. My company has another company that comes in about once a month during lunch (provided by the company), and the company discusses various topics such as time management, dealing with stress, how to work in a welcoming environment etc. I can imagine your idea of this company implmenting an innovation topic through your company/program.

    Great job!

  2. Thanks Jacqueline! I am intrigued by the comment you made about a company coming in once a month. Would you mind telling me who this company is?

  3. Hi Jeanine,

    It's called EAP. Here is their website:

  4. Oh...our company has EAP as a resource for mental health. Didn't know they offered this kind of service too. Thanks Jacqueline.