Framing post for July 29 Innochat - "Stealth Innovation"

Renee Hopkins's picture
Chat Date: 
Thu, Jul 29, 2010

We often talk about creating cultures of innovation and kicking off big innovation initiatives as if those were the only ways to approach innovation. They're not. Consider "stealth innovation" -- innovation that flies under the radar.

The fact is that many innovations won't succeed unless they have a stealth start. A couple of months ago I led a chat on the article Gwen Ishmael and I wrote titled "A Heuristic Approach to Innovation," and in that article we put forward a series of questions that innovators should ask before starting an innovation effort. In cases where the answers to questions such as "How well does this innovation effort fit the current organization?" and "How readily will management support this innovation effort?" are negative, starting in stealth mode makes sense. That way you can fly under the radar until the point where "fit" is either there or there's a case to be made that it won't matter. Or, by starting in stealth mode you can stay small until you've done enough development and testing get the management buy-in you need.

Other reasons to practice stealth innovation include situations in which you need to keep what you're doing from competitors; when times are tough, budgets small, and you need to prove that you can "design on a dime"; and when you're at such an early stage you are unsure of your direction and need to innovate your way first out of the starting gate.

Here are a couple of blogs that others have written around this theme:

WhatIF? - http://www.whatifinnovation.com/SkinnyInnovation/
A Wheelbarrow Full of Surprises - http://jonathanclarks.blogspot.com/2009/04/when-innovation-becomes-...
Brainzooming: http://brainzooming.blogspot.com/2009/05/24-hours-of-innovation-fir...

Questions we might consider:

When does it make sense to practice stealth innovation?
Have you done this? Did it work or not? Discuss.
What, if anything, does the need to practice stealth innovation say about a corporate culture?
Are stealth innovation techniques different than "regular" innovation techniques?
Can you change a corporate culture using stealth innovation techniques?

All donations go to help defray hosting, maintenance and domain name costs. Thanks!