How To Choose Your Corporate Innovation Partners

More than 50% of today’s S&P500 face replacement in the next 10 years.

20th Century management theories are based on a hierarchical chain of command, a separation of functions and an emphasis on planning, budgeting, efficiency, process, risk mitigation and of crouse, maximising shareholder returns above all else.

Unfortunately, most 20th century “best practices” are now obsolete.

The convergence of emerging technologies along with changing political, economic and customer behaviours has brought unprecedented uncertainty. This threatens the upheaval of almost every industry.
Large organisations are finding themselves scrambling to survive and stay relevant, let alone compete and thrive.

Most large incumbents have developed systems that make them adept at efficient delivery but not chaotic discovery, something inherent to breakthrough, disruptive innovation.

Culture, mindsets, processes, systems, performance incentives and values at large organisations are often the very antithesis of innovative thinking.

‍But these unfortunate circumstances are not without their remedies.


“We recognise the importance of innovation… now what?”

This is a common question echoed by executives who have been tasked with introducing innovation programs to traditional organisations.

While there’s no shortage of innovation consultants claiming to help organisations ‘survive and thrive’ in an era of rapid change and growing confusion, there is an abundance of noise and fluff that comes with it. As such, hiring the right innovation partners to achieve tangible results is no mean feat.
If you’re looking to engage outsiders and consultants to help you drive innovation, some challenges you might be encountering might include:


Words often become buzzwords because they’re overused, often a reflection of their relevance. Nonetheless, we’re awash with buzzwords today so much so that making sense of it all can be daunting.

  • Disruption
  • Lean
  • Storytelling
  • Customer-centric
  • Nimble
  • Lean Startup
  • Design Thinking
  • Cloud
  • Big data
  • Blockchain
  • AI

…the list goes on and on and on.


In the 19th Century, when snake oil was sold to rail workers to treat joint pain, it did nothing of the sort. Snake oil salesmen were looking to make a quick buck off a genuine problem. Today there is a growing army of people and organisations looking to profit and make a quick buck by claiming to treat the pain of industry incumbents.

Sometimes they create genuine value and sometimes it amounts to nothing more than snake oil. Given that reputations and accountability go a long way at large organisations, placing a bet on the wrong partner can often result in heads rolling.


Watch out for organisations purporting to help you reinvent, to build the next big breakthrough idea, to build a culture of #getshitdone innovators and more when there is little to no evidence that their organisation or their people have done anything of the sort themselves.

Would you trust a broke financial planner, an out of shape personal trainer or a depressed life coach?

Finally, watch out for startup folk who don’t understand the nuances of large companies, or suited and booted consultants from huge firms, often founded in the first half of the 20th Century, who have done little by the way of innovation or entrepreneurship themselves.


When it comes to celebrating successes, so many innovation consultancies speak only in sensationalist terms and fail to truly qualify or quantify success. They often focus on vanity metrics, things that are easily manipulated but don’t necessarily correlate to numbers that matter. They would rather focus on the number of ideas generated as part of an innovation challenge instead of the number of experiments subsequently run or the number of ideas that were ultimately commercialised.


Building on vanity metrics, it’s easy to focus on song and dance routines that make us look innovative but ultimately serve little purpose other than to leave our most innovative and entrepreneurial employees feeling disgruntled and looking for genuine opportunities elsewhere. Think new job titles like “innovation ninja”, activity based working, ping pong tables, bean bags, wearing hoodies on Fridays (“it worked for Zuck!”), over the top hackathons, Silicon Valley pilgrimages or hiring someone who wasn’t getting promoted at Google to head up innovation.


Lots of consultancies will sell you the same thing they sell everyone else, without any consideration for the nuances of your industry or your organisation. When you’re a hammer, everything becomes a nail. This helps them keep their margins high by not having to customise offerings, but ultimately serves to deliver you less value.

Similarly, watch out for companies who insist on pushing a square peg through a round hole, because all they have is square pegs to sell! Here’s looking at the “design thinking will solve all of your problems” crowd.

Don’t know what you’re buying

Perhaps most importantly of all, if you’re an executive at a large organisation who has recently been charged with overseeing innovation, perhaps you’re not quite sure what the definition of innovation is insofar as your organisation is concerned, and what kind of initiatives or remedies will work best.

While mystery flights are a fun novelty, most of us actually like to select where we’re going when we’re booking flights. Your innovation program should be no different.


Consultants should be able to help you re-design or create parallel processes and systems internally to support exploration but need to ensure that such initiatives don’t compromise the delivery of the core business. They can carve out a new business unit to deal with disruptive innovation, create spin-offs or spin-ins or they can invest in, partner with or acquire startups.

When it comes to driving corporate innovation, there are eleven key areas where consultants can help (or purport to help) organisations looking to innovate better.

Like any tools though, it comes down to how well you use them.

1. Innovation Assessments and Culture Change

Innovation assessments are used to determine your organisation’s objectives and understand whether your current processes, systems, values and resources will help to reach those objectives and if not, what needs to change. For example, do you have a clear pathway for new ideas to be evaluated and turned into experiments or are you relying on a traditional, slow moving and expensive business case process to manage this process?

2. Ideation Programs

Idea challenges, ideation platforms and crowdsourcing campaigns fall under the banner of ideation. Ideation is all about harnessing the insights and ideas of your employees as well as your customers, partners, academics, startups and the general public.

3. Design Sprints

Dedicated ideation workshops, oftentimes leveraging design thinking, to help groups of teams from across the organisation, often cross-functional, to define problems and to design solutions to said problem in a time-boxed, fast paced environment.

4. Innovation Labs

Innovation labs, or ‘outposts’, are dedicated spaces for dedicated teams to work on and explore disruptive innovation and new technologies and business models, usually based away from corporate HQ. They often engage he local startup and technology ecosystems so that they stay on the cusp of new technologies, business models, talent and ways of work.


Hackathons are two to three days bootcamps where teams of cross-functional people come together to ‘build stuff’. Hackathons emerged from Silicon Valley in the 2000s and today they’re run all over the world in organisations of all types to help rapidly build prototypes and get ideas in front of customers in a matter of hours. In an environment of uncertainty, taking lots of small bets, quickly, to identify opportunities worth doubling down on is preferable to taking few large bets, slowly. The likelihood of being wrong is simply too great.

6. Capability Uplift (Training and Workshops)

Of course, it’s hard to build an innovative organisation if people haven’t been given the skills and tools to think and act like an entrepreneur. Most innovation consultants focus on methodologies and philosophies such as design thinking, the lean startup, agile and more in order to get their people to become better at coming up with ideas, building prototypes, testing ideas and rapidly commercialising new ideas while putting customers at the centre of everything they do, as opposed to a last minute afterthought.

7. Corporate Venture Capital

Many companies are either augmenting their internal innovation efforts or outsourcing them entirely by acquiring an interest in startups and other earlier stage organisations. They’re doing this by setting up their own venture capital arms. In 2017, corporate venture capital investment (or CVC) reached a new high globally, totalling US$31.2B across 1,791 deals.

8. Startup Matching and Accelerator Programs

Startup matching and accelerator programs bring together the domain expertise, assets and networks of large incumbents with the speed, tech and talent of emerging startups. Such programs, if, and only if executed carefully and diligently, can provide large organisations with exposure to new talent and technologies, exposure to new new growth and acquisition opportunities and the opportunity to learn how startups do things, shift brand perceptions and even begin to shift mindsets internally.

9. Rapid Prototyping

Rapid prototyping help large organisations quickly determine whether market appetite exists for a particular concept, but more importantly, generate new insights which often guide teams towards more compelling customer segments or concepts.

10. Market Research

Steve Jobs was right when he said that you can only connect the dots looking backwards. Fortunately, market research firms can help you expedite some, but not all, of your dot collecting so you have a better view of where your industry is going, which technologies are driving innovation and which economic, political or social factors to watch out for (amongst other things).

Without a clear view of the business landscape, you’re ultimately driving blind.

11. Technology Consulting

Finally, technology consultants can help you to understand, select, implement and realise the benefits of technology investments such as cloud infrastructure, CRM systems and AI enabled applications.


Find below some questions you should be asking consultancies before you even think about engaging them.

  • How do we know that what you’re selling will fit our needs?
  • What measures do you use to track success? Do these track outcomes or inputs?
  • Will you customise your offering to the nuances of our organisation? If so, how?
  • Do you have a proven track record or case studies that clearly demonstrate the delivery of desired outcomes?
  • Do you have a proven track record or case studies that clearly demonstrate the delivery of desired outcomes?
  • What qualifies you to teach us how to become more innovative? Who at your organisation will we be working with and what are their credentials?
  • Can you help us move beyond ideas and turn ideas into reality? If so, how? Where have you done this previously?
  • How much do you charge and what is the price based on? (watch out for big firms passing on the cost of bloated headcounts, partner salaries, A-grade office space, company junkets and business class flights, only to serve up junior consultants to work on your project)
  • How long have you been doing this? (watch out for design thinking consultants who took a course last week)
  • What partners do you have? (you’ll want to work with consultancies that have links in to technology companies, startup ecosystems, academia and more)
  • Which companies have used you more than once? (note: retention is a signal of quality, not a guarantee)
  • Do you implement what you preach through regular experimentation of product ideas and growth hacks for your own business?


Large organisations might try to do it all themselves, however when it comes to innovation, this might not be the most prudent way forward, especially if the organisation is not yet equipped to drive innovation. In such cases, efforts are likely to fall short and both senior management and broader organisational buy-in will wane, a disastrous consequence in the long term.

The Medici Dynasty, an Italian banking family that came to power in the 14th century brought together Renaissance painters, sculptors, poets, philanthropists, scientists, philosophers, financiers, and architects that combined to shape historical eras of innovation. Today this is known as the Medici effect, and is used throughout industries to describe innovation that happens when disciplines and ideas intersect.

As such, bringing in external perspectives to broaden what may be a relatively narrow world view internally, insofar as technology and innovation is concerned, is key to putting your organisation on the right path.

Not only that, but you’ll want to bring in outsiders to:

  • Leverage their experience, methodologies and unique skill sets
  • Stand on the shoulders of giants who have been there, done that before, so you’ll spend less time asking questions and tripping over your proverbial feet and more time getting results
  • Earn and keep management buy-in by adding an innovation authority to internal teams and meetings


Not Sure Where to Start?

We can’t stress enough the ‘law of the instrument’ bias that many consultancies and people working there will fall into. If all I do is run startup accelerator programs, then I’ll try to convince you that it will be the silver bullet to all of your innovation woes, even though addressing internal cultural issues might be the best use of funds and time right now.

At Collective Campus, we try to take the guesswork out of the equation for large organisations embarking on or stuck in their innovation journey.

We do this by running what we call a discovery workshop.

In this half-day workshop, we:

  • Understand the objectives of your organisation and define what success looks like.
  • Understand your organisation’s structure, the state of management buy-in, innovation maturity and capability, business models, processes, systems, resources and values.
  • Understand existing and/or past initiatives delivered in the space of corporate innovation and what the results were.
  • Align on external industry and internal company challenges.
  • Define opportunities and potential approaches in light of Steps 1-4.
  • Deliver a report summarising our understanding and recommendations on next steps.

Why consider running a discovery workshop at your organisation?

We subtract this cost from any subsequent engagements we work on with your company
Accurate assessment of what and how to deliver to satisfy objectives and success metrics in light of the environment and challenges
A report with comprehensive recommendations complete with ‘questions to ask vendors’
A list of vendors, including competitors, you can use to deliver on recommendations
Avoid innovation theatre and wasting time, money and employee morale

Ultimately, when it comes to corporate innovation, you’ve got to be clear about:

Your objectives
Your definition of success and how you monitor progress
Where you are today and what you need to do to reach your objectives

Anything that falls outside of moving the needle is just theatre and only serves to hurt your ambitions.


We’d love to learn more about your organisation’s innovation journey and whether or not we can help you move the needle on innovation, or engage partners in our extended network, to help.