How can a 300,000+ strong company prove that they are serious about innovation and at the same time go beyond incremental innovation and thus really try to make a difference with their innovation efforts?
What about creating an innovation engine with 6,000 employees? Yes, you got it right – SIX THOUSAND employees.
That is what Telefónica did with their Telefonica Digital business unit. You should check out their website showing their interesting initiatives and this cool mission statement:
“Telefónica Digital is a global business division of Telefónica headquartered in London with regional hubs in Silicon Valley, Sao Paulo, Spain and Israel. Its mission is to seize the opportunities within the digital world and deliver new growth for Telefónica.”
Companies usually set up such efforts with smaller teams that in good cases might reach a few hundred people. Here we got six thousand people while Telefónica still has lots of resources for the incremental kind of innovation within the mother organization.
I learned about Telefónica and their sharp focus on innovation during the TrendForum conference in Berlin where I joined a panel discussion with Fernando Burgos, the VP of New Business & Innovation at Telefónica o2 in Germany. Fernando has some great perspecitives based on his key message that execution is what really matters with regards to innovation.
He’s right. Too often, there is way too much talk and planning and too little action. I really look forward to getting to know Telefónica even better as I think they are on track for something interesting here.
No Long-Term Corporate Plan?
As a tie-in to the above, I recall a recent conversation with a Chief Innovation Officer in an organization that does not really operate with a long-term corporate plan. There is no “North Star” to guide them and this actually suited him just fine as he believes “doing things” is more important.
He mentioned this great quote by Herb Kelleher, former CEO of Southwest Airlines as a way to illustrate his beliefts.
“We have a strategic plan. It’s called doing things.”
This fits well into the ideas of Telefónica and after having pondered on this input for a while, I have decided to loosen up on my belief that companies should have an innovation strategy in place. This is still relevant, but you can get along without it as long as we do not forget one of the key benefits that an innovation strategy can bring to a corporate innovation team.
This is the the ability to say no.
You can better allocate resources if you know the direction and you can better turn down new ideas and opportunities if you have a strategy. This is in particular important when you work with innovation because here new ideas are not really the issue.
You can always find lots of ideas and projects; the key challenge is to identify the best ideas, establish the right processes and apply the proper people needed to grow them into revenues and profits. The abundance of opportunities requires a strong ability for saying NO to people as well as yourself and you do not always have this ability within corporate innovation teams. As a result, they are spread out too thin and thus not able to make a long-term impact within their own organization and their industry.
So planning is important for innovation, but the most powerful tool for making a difference is the ability to execute.