Alliance Blog

Corporate Innovation – Disrupting from the Inside Out

On Tuesday, May 4th, the Alliance for SoCal Innovation virtually hosted 18 top corporate leaders from across the SoCal region for a discussion on Corporate Innovation, focusing on disrupting from the inside-out and generously sponsored by Mach49. This event was part of our invitation-only Corporate Innovation Leadership series. The theme for the evening was set by Paul Holland, Managing Director and VC-in-Residence at Mach49; Kevin Lemke, Head of Strategy and Operations at Stanley Black & Decker; and Todd Brinton, Vice President, Advanced Technology and Chief Scientific Officer at Edwards Lifesciences. Each shared insights and case studies demonstrating how their respective organizations were able to successfully spark internal disruption and innovation.

As is our custom with such events, we employed Chatham House rules so that the attendees could speak freely and openly. Participants enjoyed a lively conversation, sharing their philosophies, perspectives, obstacles, frustrations and brilliant moments of success within their own organizations’ internal innovation programs. 

While I tend to want to focus on brilliant moments of success and brag on the SoCal region’s unparalleled corporations, what intrigued me the most in this particular conversation was their sources of frustration. I hadn’t really considered before how truly disruptive being disruptive is. To have a vibrant internal innovation team or to encourage novel ideas from within an organization, isn’t quite as simple as, say, assigning 20% of employees’ time to personal projects and helping them to build out their ideas to benefit the company.  

Obstacles are baked into the very structure of corporations. When new ventures have a high failure rate (up to 92%), how does a leader manage CFO buy-in, when CFO’s by nature (and by necessity) are not at ease with such high risk endeavors? 

Further, there is an inherent risk to entrepreneurs/innovators leaving with their great ideas rather than staying and building them within the organization. Solutions could include more individualized salary and/or bonus structures to incentivize innovators to stay. But how does one get support from HR managers for such incentives when those managers are often not comfortable with inequities?

Even marketing and legal departments can be roadblocks merely by acting in the very roles they are hired to play, but that often end up being too rigid, cumbersome and prohibitive. 

At the same time, leaders are charged with the orders to “innovate or die” to remain relevant, or to stay abreast of technological advances, or to cure problems that must be remedied, and therefore internal innovation is crucial. Granted, some corporations are more than willing to spend billions of dollars on acquisitions rather than innovate from the inside out, but many SoCal organizations are thoughtfully creating programs, facing obstacles head-on, and implementing critical changes so that they can disrupt from within.  Navigating these obstacles requires committed, forward-looking leadership that values the “prize” but who can also adroitly navigate these organizational challenges.

In all, the discussion was rather hopeful — the participants came to the general agreement that the current climate is perfect for disrupting from within corporations. They remained optimistic that top leadership will recognize the need and will take up the gauntlet to help remove the roadblocks that might impede critical programs.

SoCal is rich in technology and we aren’t lacking in talent (we produce more PhDs per year than any other region). The leaders of SoCal corporations in 2021 know they have terrific opportunities to excel and achieve ground-breaking progress in tech and life sciences. The Alliance is thrilled to host convenings such as this and witness first-hand how, by coming together to discuss the pros and cons, wins and stumbling blocks of the complex world of corporate culture, SoCal leaders are set to lead the world in invention – both in innovation and in society. If you are a top SoCal corporate innovation leader and want to join future discussion please let us know.