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  • Writer's pictureAndreas Calabrese

How smart companies are (not) innovating

Organizations need to approach how they are developing new innovations differently or risk being left behind. And not just technology companies; every organization needs to look at the way they want their workforce to develop new products and services. This is a subject I am very passionate about and continue to explore any chance I am afforded. So much so, that I dedicated my university thesis to the subject.

While in the depths of studying three global superpower companies ( who have declined to publish their names along with my research), I noticed a clear trend amongst them. The ways in which they were approaching innovation internally was different from what you would traditionally expect. All three organizations were utilizing open innovation and acquisitions to develop rather than sticking to traditional R&D. As resource heavy of an approach as this may seem, it really doesn’t need to be. As a business leader, there are plenty of ways to adjust the scale of innovation efforts to match the scale of your company. Let’s take a look at the basic outline Zetta Ampersand would follow when helping a company implement this type of strategy.

Open innovation is a term many R&D professionals may be familiar with. The basic concept is that innovation and new product/service ideas tend to be developed faster outside a strict corporate structure in comparison to a siloed R&D approach. To implement an open innovation strategy, an organization would turn to incubators, accelerator labs, joint-ventures or spin-offs to serve as an outsourced development tool. But the concept can be used as a wider strategy for looking to increase value-add activities in a company ( which on average, only account for 20% of the average employees time). A mere change in *the way* groups work inside enterprises is the real key of the concept. A business of nearly any size and in any industry can take an open innovation approach to see incredible results.

There is not a massive investment cost or resource reallocation needed to achieve this either. If there was, it wouldn’t be efficient or accessible to any size organization and we wouldn’t recommend it to our clients. The long term goal is to change the ways in which a team inside an organization is working, to produce products and results at a higher speed than normal. It really does boil down to such a simple concept yet the implementation and execution are the difficult parts of the strategy.

A simple example would be to take a traditional manufacturing organization. The first step would be to build a small team of at maximum 6–7 employees from different functions. These employees would be given a simple goal of coming up with a new way to offer more services to their customers on top of their products. The employees would be given a small budget and educated on concepts such as LEAN and testing concepts quickly, just like a startup. And if the employees are freed from having too many stakeholders engaged in the project and have a tangible claim to the upside if they are successful, the results will speak for themselves. Not only will this group produce more service concepts and better products, but organizational leadership will learn how to structure these teams for other projects. In the short term, new services will be pioneered by the group. In the long run, the company will learn how to create and organize teams that deliver results on specific missions. A win-win for any company.

Internal Incubators Are A Great Way To Start:

Incubators are a staple of the startup world. These internal innovation garages are common ways for organizations to give the dedicate space and resources to the spin-off type groups mentioned above. Both the technology and consumable products industries have mastered the business incubator, but almost every other industry has lagged behind in their utilization of them. And just like in implementing open-innovation, incubation efforts can be sized to fit an organization.

Admittedly, it does take a larger commitment of resources to establish a successful internal incubator. However, companies with as few as 50–60 employees can still see benefits from them. Setting the program up correctly and establishing a central focus or “theme” from the beginning is the most important part of the process.

Starting by creating a space for one “spin-off” team would be a fantastic start. The mere commitment to a dedicated space for these type of groups lays the groundwork for future projects and begins the process of collecting organization knowledge on how to best run the program. After all, discovering a process for driving more innovation is one of the most important things an organization can invest in to ensure long term competitive advantage.

Engage with the Local Entrepreneurial Community:

Startup events used to be of interest to only a small group of professionals. Often, these events were groups of computer scientists and engineers working on high-tech companies in a specific niche. But that is no longer the case. Companies large and small can stand to benefit greatly from engaging with their local entrepreneurship communities. This might seem like a bit of an abstract concept but think of it more as a data collection activity in comparison to a promotional one.

Startup forums and events now feature young companies and professionals for nearly every industry imaginable. And accompanying these companies are professional service firms, media, and large corporate partners looking to engage with the community. By taking an active role in these events or groups, your organization can engage in *the* most important activity for future growth: sourcing future technical


Every function of every company can benefit from tech talent. Whether it be helping your finance department create automation or helping analyze and improve sales processes, technical talent is the catalyst for the change. Getting involved at any level of resource dedication gives your business a head start into locking down the resource that we at Zetta Ampersand have predicted will be more valuable than any other to businesses, including “data”

In Summary:

The three above sections above are a simplified look at increasing the more value-driven parts of an organizations operations. Of course, details matter when implementing a strategy into an organization and the chances of success depend heavily on the structures governing these projects. Zetta Ampersand as a firm is always willing to share our knowledge base with organizations without a fee attached. This is because the true value of these concepts is in the implementation and execution of the strategies. As a principle-driven firm, Zetta Ampersand wants to stand by our clients to deliver results rather than intangible concepts and talking points.

Our new programs are aimed at helping organizations and their leaders figure out the best ways to build accelerators/incubators/innovation teams and help them execute. I am beyond excited to work with new and current clients to implement these concepts in their companies. To learn more about these programs and how your company could improve its value add activities, feel free to email me at

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