Create “On Ramps” For Innovation

Recently I wrote about 7 Steps To Creating An Innovative Culture.  Step 5 is to create “On Ramps”.  I’d like to drill down a bit more into that topic because I find it to be a way to innovations to market.

The Resource Conflict

Managers often feel overwhelmed by the amount of work they need to accomplish and dismayed by the amount of resources they have to work with — who wouldn’t like to have more bodies and money to attack an opportunity?  Yet, innovation can be stifled when 100% of resources are allocated.  Conflicts arise when new ideas must compete with resources that have already been allocated.  Promises have already been made. Expectations are already set.  These are difficult obstacles to overcome when trying to move innovations forward in this system.  The only way innovations can move forward is either increasing available resources (which usually takes too long to be effective) or to delay in flight projects.  This means breaking promises and resetting expectations.  It’s not a comfortable process for anyone.  This conflict is caputured in the diagram below.

Building On Ramps

The key is building innovation into the system.  Allocate a small percentage of resources for the purposes of innovation.  This will give the organization the ability to respond to market opportunities.  Create a system for deciding which innovations can and should move forward.  This “decision engine” must work quickly to vet and test ideas.  During earlier ideation phases you might have suspended judgment on whether an idea was feasible, but now is the time to apply a standardized rigor.  You have to be quick and merciless in killing ideas which should not move forward.  On the flip side you need to be able to advance good ideas quickly to take advantage of the opportunity.

In summary building “on ramps” creates a standard way to bring innovative ideas to market quickly.

Do you have innovation on ramps? Or maybe you have a different way of moving innovations forward?


  1. John,

    You make a good point, though I’m not sure that even a perceived 100% allocation actually holds true in many cases. Sometimes citing that statistic is just a handy resistance tactic. Many times there is wiggle room, and most times a lot of the work that matters gets done in the last push around a project completion or launch date.

    Still, the point that there is a need to create an environment that supports innovation remains valid. And a methodology for processing those ideas is essential. The best model I’ve seen is when companies like Google allocate time for staff to freely innovate, using a grass roots and organic model for evaluation and resource allocation. That’s where Gmail came from!


  2. Nice to see IT admit it has wiggle room! 🙂

    The Google allocation model is an excellent way to ingrain innovation into the culture, but my experience is it’s “relatively” easy for a software company to use an allocation model. Other industries seem to need more of a roadmap on how to innovate. No?

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