Corporate antibodies: How to win over innovation’s enemies

by | May 30, 2012

In a blog for the Harvard Business Review, US Innovation Leader at PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Mitra Best, wrote about an innovation competition within her organization, the resistance she encountered within the business, and the steps she took to help tackle these.

Labelled ‘corporate antibodies’, those that resist change are not merely naysayers: they are important to the function of an organization to protect it from risk. Senior executives need to work with these antibodies to identify ideas that will actually help the business to grow.

Photo by boetter/Flickr.

Photo by boetter/Flickr.

Best tells of a competition within PwC called PowerPitch where employees were asked to come up with a plan for the company’s next $100 million project. The finalists were flown to New York American Idol style to personally deliver their pitch.

How did Best carry this off in such a sprawling and entrenched firm? She recruited the biggest sponsor to champion the project, none other than PwC chairperson Bob Moritz who set her up with her own Innovation Office to help harness new ideas. He relayed the message companywide and said he wanted every single person to participate. That message really got employees excited.

Getting the corporate antibodies onside required Best setting up face-to-face meetings with each “naysaying” department and requesting they contribute in their area of expertise.  For instance, she worked with the CFO to hammer out the details of the budget and prize and spoke to the branding team to help increase visibility of the project.

The next step required getting middle management on the project. The vice chairman of markets introduced Best to 20 market leaders and she detailed the PowerPitch idea and how it would not impact their bottom lines too much. With the encouragement of the PwC chairperson, no less, it wasn’t too tricky to recruit participants. Employees eagerly took to the idea and planned meeting and brainstorming sessions in their own time, of their own accord. “Once people started campaigning for their ideas, communities that had not previously existed started to emerge,” Best writes.

The PowerPitch winner scored a $100,000 cash prize. The chairman surprised organizers by giving each of the five finalists a $25,000 prize and another $5,000 for each semi-finalist.

Best’s Innovation Office has now ensured each of the top 25 ideas are seen through the proper channels, from conception right through to becoming market-ready products.

This example is a great case study of how innovation was seen through in a huge corporation. Read her full story here.

Jeffrey Tobias

About Jeffrey Tobias

Dr Tobias is an accomplished innovation consultant and entrepreneurship strategist, drawing expertise from the academic, entrepreneurial and corporate worlds. Jeffrey’s commercial and business experience is particularly focussed on lean startup, design thinking and leadership. Prior to The Strategy Group, Jeffrey was Cisco’s Global Lead for Innovation in the Internet Business Solutions Group helping Fortune Global 500 companies improve customer experience and grow revenue by transforming how they do business.
Jeffrey is a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship teaching MBA students at the Australian Graduate School of Business at the University of New South Wales. An active angel investor, Jeffrey is on the board of various well-known startups.

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Managing Director, The Strategy Group

Dr Tobias is an accomplished innovation consultant and entrepreneurship strategist, drawing expertise from the academic, entrepreneurial and corporate worlds. Jeffrey’s commercial and business experience is particularly focussed on lean startup, design thinking and leadership. Prior to The Strategy Group, Jeffrey was Cisco’s Global Lead for Innovation in the Internet Business Solutions Group helping Fortune Global 500 companies improve customer experience and grow revenue by transforming how they do business.
Jeffrey is a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship teaching MBA students at the Australian Graduate School of Business at the University of New South Wales. An active angel investor, Jeffrey is on the board of various well known startups. Jeffrey’s corporate background includes leading global innovation strategy at Cisco, working with large corporates such as Adobe, Westpac, Telstra, Woolworths, and Perpetual.

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