You've got a great idea but you know from experience that the C-Suite isn't tolerant of radical innovations without reams of back-up data. The Catch-22 is that to fund the proof of concept, you need C-Suite approval to work on improving the idea. What to do? Break the rules.
The answer might lie in stealth innovation, as described in a recent Harvard Business Review article (March 2013). “Under-the-radar” innovations address four challenges that face many radical ideas.
First, while the C-Suite might suffer from risk adversity, mid-level managers are more likely to offer support for a new idea. Middle managers are normally closer to the customer and can recognize the context of the problem that your idea is trying to solve.
Next, senior management is not likely to approve the idea without bureaucratic procedures demonstrating proof of concept. Uh-oh, the Catch-22 again! On the other hand, a stealth innovation can proceed with prototypes and concept tests to gather initial customer responses that support the viability of the idea.
Third, formal projects have formal budgets and formal requirements imposed by upper management. A stealth innovation can scavenge excess equipment from abandoned or orphaned projects with little or no cost. Trading resources or partnering with external suppliers can cut the expenses of initial development work substantially.
Finally, with a plethora of corporate initiatives on-going for productivity improvement, quality management, and lean development, it is likely that a stealth innovation already fits into the business strategy. Be sure to discuss your under-the-radar idea in terms of these formal corporate initiatives to help it gain traction and support from internal sponsors.
While the formal innovation system works well for many types of innovations, you sometimes need to break the rules and go stealth to get a radical idea advanced.