When corporations want to restart innovation, there are several challenges they face. The systems in place help them run in predictable ways but their plans become incompatible with the unpredictable trajectories that innovations take in their early stages. Our SFAT program helps stabilize the situation.
The traditional approach since the 1940s is setting up “skunkworks”, which are teams that operate like a small independent company, insulated from the rest of the corporation, with its own budgeting, procurement, approval, and reporting systems.
The process is very difficult to implement well because it requires the direct and constant involvement of one senior executive, by senior meaning at least a division president. Anyone below the division president level will lack the clout necessary to shield the “skunkworks” from corporate interference. However, a division president or another high-profile leader already has a full-time job running an important part of the corporation. Not many people can afford to lead what amounts to a startup, in parallel with their corporate obligations.