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Harvard Business Review published our article on Stealth Innovation, detailing how to make innovation happen under the radar inside a company.

The article is adapted from our book Innovation as Usual. Excerpt of the article below:

The Case For Stealth Innovation

by Paddy Miller and Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg

You have an idea for a daring, innovative project that could have a significant impact on your business. However, you suspect that your idea will meet with internal resistance: The innovation would upend the status quo, and chances are good that other parts of the organization will try to stop it. What’s your next step?

The conventional answer is simple: Get a mandate from the top. As many innovation experts rightly point out, only the most incremental ideas pass through the corporate-approvals gantlet unscathed. The more unusual your idea, the larger the risk that it will fall victim to turf wars, myopic incentive systems, or simple resistance to change. For this reason, innovators are often counseled to go straight to the top, secure backing at the highest possible level, and build a corporate sense of urgency around their ideas.

The “top first” strategy, however, carries its own risks. CEOs of large organizations are constantly barraged with proposals for new, untested projects, and typically, the ideas get a five-minute perusal followed by a “no.” And even if your idea does win support from the C-suite, early exposure is a double-edged sword: It buys you legitimacy and resources, but it also thrusts you squarely into the corporate spotlight—and that can be a dangerous place for young, unproven ideas. Our experience working with innovative managers has revealed an alternative approach: innovating under the radar. […]

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Definition: Stealthstorming (STELTH-ˈsto:rming) 1. verb: to surreptitiously attack or assault  2. noun: covert decisions and actions in an organization aimed at ensuring the implementation of an innovation.

by Paddy Miller, Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg and Azra Brankovic

Once the challenge for management was to get employees “innovating,” “thinking creatively” and “brainstorming.” Now reality has bitten and the innovation space is less idealistic and more Machiavellian. For those who know where to look, there is no shortage of ideas coming out of organizations. The problem lies in making these ideas gain traction in a company where innovation – despite what the mission statement may proclaim – is in reality a very low priority. Signs include:

  • Bottom-up initiatives somehow never make it very far – key decisionmakers don’t ‘get it’ or aren’t willing to put money on the table
  • Byzantine corporate politics suck the life out of innovators, eventually making them quit the firm
  • ‘Creative’ is not a word you’d want people to call you – as one manager put it, “in my company, being called creative is the kiss of death for your career.”

How do managers make innovation happen in such an environment?

The answer is Stealthstorming.

Stealthstorming is the way to make it happen when the odds are against you.

It is guerilla warfare, waged with ideas.

It is a radical thinker dressed in a suit and a tie.

It is when you abandon all the usual trappings of creativity – multi-colored hats, flamboyant workshops, cheesy change management techniques – and sneak under the corporate defenses to make it happen.

Stealthstorming is what Jordan Cohen did when he, as a regular manager, built the highly innovative service called pfizerWorks and created his dream job.

Want to know more? Come join our intensive course at IESE Business School in New York on May 5-6, where we have sessions on StealthStorming, Innovation Strategy, pfizerWorks, Reframing, and much more.

The Innovation Architect: Creating breakthrough companies

You need to be there.