Stealth Innovation Strategy -An #Innochat Discussion

The topic of last week’s #Innochat (a Twitter-based, innovation oriented chat each Thursday at 11 a.m. central time) was stealth innovation strategy, i.e. trying to develop innovative business ideas in relative quiet to get around an organization’s naysayers.  The topic is of great interest for those facing environments where an innovation-based strategy, in any of its various forms, isn’t supported. Spending a lot of effort trying to catalyze innovation in those environments serves as the premise for everything under the “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” banner (plus the occasional Brainzooming blog post, as I was surprised to find in the framing for the “stealth innovation” Innochat.)

The Innochat participants covered a variety of angles on stealth innovation strategy, often returning to strategic challenges within an organization as a fundamental factor in making it make sense to engage in underground innovation. You could say it comes down to a strategic risk trade-off: if you think the risk of a new idea being shot down is greater than the risk of a hand slap for not going through all the proper channels, stealth innovation can be a compelling business innovation strategy.

In an interesting variation on theme, Fared Adib, VP of Product Development and Operations at Sprint described what is essentially a “sanctioned” stealth innovation strategy at the previous day’s Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce Innovation Conference. He recounted an instance where Sprint had set up two independent innovation teams working on the same technology development opportunity. The strategy and efforts of each innovation team were kept from the other so that the organization could reap the timing and diversity benefits of two separate streams of innovation activity.

The hour-long #Innochat tweetversation wrapped by agreeing that stealth innovation is fine as an occasional strategy, but if it’s an every time strategy, there are bigger strategic issues to be addressed.

What do you think about stealth innovation? Have you used a stealth innovation strategy? If you have, what were the reasons, what was your implementation strategy, and did you consider it successful? – Mike Brown

The Brainzooming Group helps make smart organizations more successful by rapidly expanding their strategic options and creating innovative plans they can efficiently implement. Contact us at 816-509-5320 to see how we can help you devise a successful innovation strategy for your organization.


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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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8 Responses to “Stealth Innovation Strategy – Hiding Innovative Business Ideas”

  1. Steve Hill says:

    I feel like there might be a significant risk for group think with this style of innovation. For instance, what is to prevent an organization full of like-minded individuals to think their new idea of a product is better than it really is. I think stealth-innovation would work best in an organization that strives to be diverse in its workforce.

  2. Mike Brown says:

    That exact comment came up in the #Innochat conversation Steve, about the risk of overlooking conflicting perspectives on an innovation effort.

    My response was that it’s important to still seek out people who look at the innovation effort with skepticism, but who aren’t in a position to (or are willing to “relinquish” their capacity to) kill the idea without a chance to get it to a fuller stage of realization and objective evaluation.

  3. Jeff Rubingh says:

    Sometimes, I fear, it’s the only way if the organization has idea killers who hold the keys.

    • Mike Brown says:

      And that’s the point, Jeff. It’s a touchy situation. Ultimately I recommend that if the “official” channels can’t be used, somebody in a corporation is at least testing the intent and the idea with others as a self-check that their intentions are sound and their idea had merit. I’m not a big “be the lone wolf in the corporation” advocate, especially for someone who isn’t at a senior level and can pay an undue price for choosing the path they have.


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