Building New Businesses in Established Organizations

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In a couple of weeks,  I have the honor of once again speaking at Harvard Business School’s executive education program on Building New Businesses in Established Organizations. We will have 80 to 90 companies seeking to learn how to build or accelerate existing organic growth initiatives.

I’ve been working on this topic for 10-12 years now, and I’m really looking forward to the dialogue with these organizations. Here are a few of the things that I expect to be discussing with them that I’ve learned from other companies:

  • Learning to manage pilots or experiments
  • Deciding how to fund internal start-ups
  • Putting the right people in charge
  • Structuring the innovation businesses
  • Sustaining focus on growth in the core

Each day of BNBEO, I will discuss each of these five main points in more depth, so be sure to subscribe, or follow me on twitter.


What Does Your Calendar Say about How Innovative You Are (or Aren’t)?

Donna Lesch

Donna Lesch, Sr. Associate
Follow @DonnaJLesch

“Innovate or die” seems to be the buzz in corporate America these days. And it’s true, the way to thrive in a quickly changing business environment is to be agile and innovative–but when do you do that if you’re on the run from meeting to meeting, task to task?  Where is the space to innovate and create? Our Calendars and To Do lists drive our lives and reflect what we value. What does your calendar say about you?

Take a look at these two different leaders’ calendars.  Which one will be more innovative and engaged?

Dimitri’s Day

  • Meditate
  • Walking meeting with Bob – strategy talk–what are we missing?
  • Co-creation session for Project Sidewinder with Tim – Marketing, Ellen – Sales, Aisha – Procurement, Avid – HR,  Allen – engineering – share fresh ideas we have collected from conversations
  • Lunch – Run
  • Hang out on the floor and break room – check in on projects and team vibe
  • Red group steering committee meeting – status information and project update sent last week – what does the team need?
  • Complete the Idea audit – what is in my old folders, notebooks that needs to be revisited?
  • Business development open forum – what are we hearing from the field?
  • Client call – check in, are we delivering?
  • Calligraphy class

Mariah’s Day

  • Breakfast meeting with QA team lead
  • Call with Legal on new contract
  • Policy review – look at changes on new amendments
  • Project Sidewinder presentation – deck is in the folder
  • Staff meeting – get updates, talk about engagement survey results
  • Lunch with consulting team
  • Strategy review session – conference room (bring deck)
  • Budget review – exception report review
  • One-on-one’s (30 mins each) with Amelia, Zander and Sam (project status, goals, development)
  • Marketing meeting – updated on projects
  • Sales plan review
  • Dinner with business development team – present new plan

The research says Dimitri.  Surprised?  Isn’t he just playing?  There is a compelling body of research that makes a case for the benefits of creating space for innovation through practices like meditation, exercise, sleep, relaxation, and engaging your brain in activities unrelated to the problem that your are trying to solve. Brainstorming with people outside your area of expertise also increases creativity.

So why do most of our schedules look like Mariah’s, caught in the endless cycle of meetings, getting tasks done, being perpetually busy?  It is hard to figure out how to add innovative strategic, “big picture” thinking to a day that is already full from morning to night.  Maybe we need to shift our thinking.  Innovation, creativity, and strategic thinking are not tasks that can be complete during the hour blocks on our calendars.  They are a frame of mind or way of being and working that require us to reflect deeply as leaders.  We need to slow down and take stock of what where we spend our time on and assess what value it brings.   We need to shift our measure of success from being how busy we are to how innovative, engaged and productive we are. This likely means that, for many of us, we must think of new ways to approach how we invest our time and energy.  Our calendars and to-do lists may need to shift.  Getting started doesn’t mean we must cancel all our meetings and sign up for yoga.  Instead think about taking one or two small steps to get the ball rolling.

  • Need fresh thinking?
    • Get out of the building not the box.  Walk.  Put some distance between you and the problem you are tackling.  Take in what you see and experience as you walk.  New ideas will show up when your brain is relaxed and can make new associations. Don’t forget to bring a notepad to capture them.
    • Look at adjacent businesses – look for inspiration by generalizing the problem and then think of others who have faced a similar challenge – how did they do it?
    • Bring in new points of view – talk with those who have no relationship to the opportunity/problem.  Their naïve perspective will help you challenge your assumptions and open your thinking.
    • Look at the situation with a beginner’s mind. How would you see it if you were just hired?  How would a 7 year old see it?  What if there was no right answer or risk–what would you do?
  • Create more time for innovation in your schedule
    • Take inventory – what percent of your meetings are about sharing status information (one way communication) versus exploring, learning and talking?  Try shifting the percentage to more time spent in dialogue, generating options, testing assumptions, and thinking boldly.  To increase the value of the meeting time and ensure it is spent in dialogue, require all status information be documented and sent in advance of the meeting. Send out the agenda for the meeting in advance so team members can begin to generate their ideas and points of view.
    • Call a halt to meetings.  What?  Once a month declare a meeting-free day in your office.  Dedicate the day to informally thinking, creating and exploring new ideas.

So, what is your next step?  How do you create space and time for innovation and creativity in your day; and subsequently, once you have your ideas, how do you apply them?