A corporate Shark Tank that might work

In the previous post, I covered what folks miss when they want to implement a corporate shark tank.

This post covers some ideas on how to bring shark tank into a company that might work.

First, folks with ideas should do groundwork to prove an idea, just like the contestants on Shark Tank

In one place I worked, field leaders presented lots of promotion ideas because they were rewarded for presenting ideas. They got kudos for being forward-thinking, engaged and thinking about the success of business, even though many of their ideas had been tried and failed. So, they tossed plenty of ideas over the wall, not caring whether the business actually tried them or not.

Because so many of those ideas never went anywhere once thrown over the wall, we started asking the field leaders if they would fund the trial on their own P&L to prove it out for the business.

We were surprised with how that changed things.

It cut the number of ideas down by 80%. Talking about an idea is one thing. But, it turns out, putting some stakes on the table to prove your idea is another.

When people were forced to think through how an idea might impact their own wallet, much like founders on Shark Tank, they filtered their ideas more carefully and were more interested in learning about why some ideas had failed.

It also resulted in a few brave souls some ideas that were different and they signed up to try it at their own risk, achieving the original results we were after, bypassing red tape to test more ideas.

One of those ideas ended up being a grand slam home run and a few were pretty good.

Second, everyone is a shark

Most folks envision a corporate Shark Tank as an innovation committee made up of mid to high level managers who will act as gatekeepers.

But, I think this will result in the same red tape as the typical innovation methods they have now, but it will just be more showcased.

I would open the Shark Tank to anybody in the organization, to create an idea marketplace that can connect up the idea generators and champions with folks that want to try them in the real world and on larger scales, on their own P&L, or contribute their own time, effort and expertise.

I do see a need for a committee, just not as a gatekeeper.

The committee would collect the ideas, help idea generators conduct early testing and connect the idea folks with people who want to try them in the business or contribute more.

The committee could maintain an online, searchable list of ideas, like Kickstarter, so folks in the organization can search them when they are looking for ideas, along with organizing regular meetings where ideas that have shown good signs in early testing are pitched to gain champion for larger scale trials.

I think the committee can also enforce some key principles of innovation

Ideas don’t die until they’ve been tried. The primary criteria for product and marketing ideas is how customers respond to it. I’ve seen lots of ideas killed for lots of other reasons, like management didn’t like the idea, it was thought the idea didn’t fit with the vision of the company and so on.

Remind everyone that the the odds success are very low, somewhere between 1-in-10 and 1-in-10,000. That’s why we don’t kill ideas until tried, why we try as much as possible on very small scales and encourage as much trial as we can. Good innovation is much more about playing the odds than beating them. It’s a lot like fishing. Even the best fisherman don’t catch a fish on every line.

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