corporate innovation

Corporate innovation: 2 startup pitfalls you should absolutely avoid

Every time I start a new innovation project, the energy is high! People are eager to join and supportive ideas what to do are everywhere. However not all ideas are equal and some can be even harmful for your project. Sounds familiar? That’s why I’ve written this article. During my career as a professional innovator I’ve experienced a couple of basic pitfalls when it comes to corporate innovation that can hinder your project later on. When I start a new project I always take these 2 practical approaches.

Pitfall 1: Ignoring your ‘corporate bubble’

Corporates (people who work in a corporate environment) tend to live in a bubble (I experienced this myself, after I left my corporate employer to build my first company). Clients, colleagues, and bosses they are all part of this bubble. The bubble is something good, it’s part of why the company is a successful large company and responsible for a lot of value and business. But, in a corporate bubble world the corporate is ‘king’ and this has a negative effect on innovation:  

Corporates tend to know better. This has nothing to do with arrogance of such, but everything with being part of the bubble surrounding a corporate. In innovation circles we call this the ‘bullsh*t factor’. Meaning that 90% of ideas/vision/scope are based on assumptions, but are taken as truths…

For innovation projects its deadly to build upon bullsh*t assumptions. And most projects start with an idea/believe/gut feeling, instead of with hard facts.

Do this instead: meet with 10-100 potential customers asap

The best way to quickly prevent such mistakes is to have your innovation team interview 10-100 potential customers as soon as possible. The benefits of meeting people face to face are many: 

  1. You start your project with initial validated assumptions

  2. The team will operate more customer-oriented (a success driver)

  3. You collect hard data on your target customer (who) and the problem they have (why)

Going out of the building and questioning your core business assumptions is called ‘Customer Development’ a term coined by Steve Blank a long time ago. You can find a lot of great articles on this topic since. You can start with my practical tips:

Use the interviews for problem validation to answer 2 key assumptions: Who is the customer? What is their problem? 

2 key assumptions to validateAdditionally answer:

What triggers the problem?
When or where does this happen?
With what frequency does this happen?
Who else is affected/involved when the problem occurs?
Alternatives: how is the problem solved today? (what could go wrong here, what is time consuming, what is frustrating)

To structure your interviewing, here is a handy framework from Ash Maurya that can work well for preparing your interviewing. He has written an interesting article on how to find the better problems here. But he offers a lot more valuables for innovation teams.

Where to find people to interview?

Something that works very well for short interviews, is to approach people who are waiting on something and have nothing to do. This way you can become a benefit, as a pleasant distraction. People who are waiting for a train/bus. Or people who are on a train/bus are usually very open to help you out.

​​​​​​​If you have some money to spend and want to have more in-depth conversations. Than you can also have an agency schedule interviews for you. Very time efficient, to have a day booked full with meetings. I used this approach myself to meet people with a specific sustainable mindset. 

Pitfall 2: Stakeholders’ push on (the wrong) priorities   

Large companies are used to think big and in large numbers. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why it’s so hard to create successful innovations within a corporate. Because startup innovations have small numbers in the beginning and they don’t fit the decision-making perspective of big numbers. 

Therefore innovation projects will always get some sort of push from stakeholders within the organization to get bigger, faster, richer, etc. Embrace that support, but please be aware of the risk that you will be influenced to follow-up on these priorities in the wrong order. Be careful not to spend your time and money on activities that are not yet relevant for your innovation process. Some examples:

  • Scheduled introductory meetings with business units or potential channel partners

  • Early requests for project presentations and external communication.

  • Scope limitations from IT, legal or compliance


Do this instead: FOCUS on the right side of the Business Model Canvas first

To help say no to external (stakeholder) influences and to stay on track with the right priorities, focus on the right side of the business model canvas first. Business Model Canvas is a strategic management and lean startup template for developing new business models. You are probably familiar with it! It’s one of the most practical methods to describe business activities and can help you prioritize! ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Source: Strategyze

By focusing on the right side of the canvas, you will address your proposition and solution after you’ve identified who your customer is and what the problem is you are solving for them. This way you are able to address all the assumptions you want to answer at the start of a corporate innovation project: ​​​​​​​

Following your problem interviews you move forward and use solution validation interviews or experiments to answer what your value proposition and solution is:

For this you can start a second interviewing round or use (digital) experiments to validate the value proposition for your target customers and the starting point how your solution should work. 

Use the RAT test for focus and prioritization:

At this stage you will have gathered a lot of assumptions you will need to validate in order to answer the 4 key assumptions. The Riskiest Assumption Test (RAT) is a great way to prioritize and focus. With your team plot all your assumptions on the grid below (you should have dozens..). Do this exercise fast, without debating each assumption.The assumptions you’ve identified in the top right quadrant are your most critical ones. And the only ones you need to address and focus on! They were born from your business model and customer interviews and address both problem as solution assumptions. 


In short, try to avoid these 2 pitfalls in corporate innovation:

  1. Ignoring your ‘corporate bubble’

  2. Stakeholders’ push on (the wrong) priorities

At the same time address the 4 key assumptions for all innovation startups and validate the who, why, what and how with facts. This way you should be able to innovate with more success in a corporate environment! 

Good luck and enjoy the process!
Menno C. Lanting
Turn ideas into reality | Innovation catalyst | Build new products faster and cheaper