How to incubate innovation–Christian Catalini

MIT Sloan Professor Christian Catalini

MIT Sloan Professor Christian Catalini

From MIT SMR Custom Studio

The first thing an organization can do to nurture innovation is to tap into its own human capital. At a high level, all organizations care about ideas, and more often than not, in corporate settings, people already have ideas. Staff have expertise, know the customers, and throughout the organization they can interface with interesting sources of data and information.  It’s just that their day-to-day requirements do not allow them to execute. Slack time can be an important lever for incubating creativity and a meaningful way for executing ideas employees have had in mind for some time.

But if you ask employees to be entrepreneurial, it’s not same – they may end up directing their own unit, but not building and scaling a multi-billion dollar start-up. It’s hard when you have the safety and surroundings of a large organization to act like entrepreneurs who have to attract capital from outside. The challenge is once you identify talent and the ideas inside to incentivize to execute an experiment as though it were a start-up. Perhaps the biggest organizational change is to think like a small start-up.

From an organizational perspective, firms can learn a great deal from university accelerators. At MIT, we have Global Founders’ Skill Accelerator, where we get students with good ideas to scale businesses. The interesting thing is that students who have no experience of entrepreneurship get feedback and advice from a set of seasoned entrepreneurs. Similarly, an enterprise may have skills and expertise on the tech side, but no track record of taking an idea and scaling it to a multi-billion project. The challenge is how to recruit entrepreneurs to train employees with the good ideas to take them to the next level.

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