The Innovation Imperative in 2020: 10 Key Takeaways

There's never been a better time for companies to innovate. In fact for some, it's absolutely crucial they do to survive. As the entire world attempts to predict what will happen in the coming months, and we all do our best to prepare for a "new business normal", the needs of consumers are rapidly shifting. The companies that will make it through, and even prosper, are those that rise to the occasion and find new ways to meet these demands. 

On June 2, Structural hosted its largest virtual event to dateOver 150 representatives from companies around the nation registered for The Innovation Imperative in 2020. Our panel of innovation and digital transformation experts included Scott Snyder (Partner, Digital Transformation and Innovation at Heidrick & Struggles and Co-Author of Goliath's Revenge), Elliott Parker (CEO - High Alpha Innovation) and our own CEO, Scott Burns.

Check out the full recording of the event here:


Read on for just a glimpse into this panel's expert advice. 


10 Key Takeaways from The Innovation Imperative in 2020:



Panelist Scott Snyder, PhD, Digital & Innovation Partner at Heidrick & Struggles, Co-Author of Goliath's Revenge


1. Creative destruction is uncomfortable but advantageous. 

The business world as we know it has forever changed, and we don't necessarily have a game plan for how to navigate our new reality. After all,  most of us did not have a "worldwide pandemic plan." This uncertainty is without a doubt alarming. Scott Snyder acknowledged that during our virtual event. He also reminded us that there's a silver lining:

"COVID-19 is the shock that many leaders were trying to create or manufacture, that burning platform, to get people to actually understand the need for change."
-Scott Snyder

Many companies have already seized this opportunity to innovate and have found new ways of bringing value and support to customers. Doing so will give them a competitive edge in this new frontier. 

2. Being average or a little better than yesterday won't cut it. 

As Scott Snyder points out, this already rang true in a digitally-enabled world, but will become increasingly clear in a post-COVID world. He states that two types of businesses will exist: the "Digital Haves" and the "Digital Have-Nots"...there's no in-between.

So, what's the key to becoming a "Digital Have?" Find a way to continue running your core business operations successfully, while continuously disrupting and reinventing products and processes. Essentially, run at "two speeds." Easy...right? Not exactly. The good news is that Scott lays out six rules for winning the digital disruption game in his book, Goliath's Revenge. He also provides a great overview in the Innovation Imperative event recording above. 

Get a free copy of Goliath's Revenge here.

3. Feed your "data flywheel."

Data is a powerful asset. Companies are finding creative ways to harness it, putting it to use in driving strategic innovation and improving overall customer experience.  As Scott Snyder explained during the event, some companies were "born" data companies, built to collect and utilize it (i.e., Google and Facebook) Those that were not, like Under Armor for example, have had to work to create or acquire data sources. They build up what he calls a "data flywheel" that feeds into their product or service offerings, providing a more competitive angle. 

4. Start by transforming your department or function.

Scott Snyder's final piece of advice: whether you have "digital" or "innovation" in your title or not, you can transform your organization from right where you are. His analogy is that being a change leader means being a "triathlete" and you must train in these three ways:

  1. Thinking ahead in a strategic way
  2. Taking steps towards transformation starting with your role or department and across your team
  3. Driving this transformation at scale to improve business output.

These break down into additional steps, all underlined by agility. 

Laptop_Parker_2Panelist Elliott Parker, CEO at High Alpha Innovation


5. R&D and M&A are more expensive and less efficient than they used to be. 

They are still valid steps towards innovation - mainly for companies that are centralized. Today's reality is that most companies are moving towards decentralization. As Elliott Parker pointed out during his presentation, this is due to major advances in technology over the past few decades.  Of course, the move towards decentralization has accelerated during the pandemic, with a major spike in remote work and greater reliance on virtual collaboration. 

According to Elliott, the most cost-effective and efficient steps towards innovation are now happening "on the fringes" within an organization, truly at the individual or team level. Many organizations are making autonomous innovation among individuals and teams easier through the use of technology. For example, our customers are increasingly adding data to individual Structural profiles like current and future capacity, systems used on a regular basis, and past client or project experience. This information then becomes searchable by all employees, making it easy to align individuals and teams to the right opportunities at the right time

Screen Shot 2020-04-29 at 12.55.14 PM


The data compiled within Structural profiles is entirely searchable, empowering alignment of expertise with high-impact opportunities.


6. Corporations shouldn't try to be startups. 

They just aren't set up to function the same way. This doesn't mean that corporations can't learn a lot from startups -  Elliott covers a whole range of startup concepts that can be scaled to the corporate level. They will just look a lot different within the walls of a large organization. This idea ties back to what Scott Snyder mentioned about running at "two speeds" - finding  ways to disrupt and reinvent while continuing to run business as usual. 

7. Experiment as much as possible while keeping costs low. 

This is done successfully within a corporation when innovation resources are decentralized. As Elliott points out, though corporations are centralized units, experiments must happen in a distributed yet well-managed way. If experiments are overly centralized, that also exposes the entire corporation to fragility and volatility.  Take a cue from mother nature:

"Complex systems in nature embrace volatility. Scaled enterprises are like complex systems, and they can innovate just like nature by pushing experimentation to the edges." 
- Elliot Parker




Panelist Scott Burns, CEO at Structural


8. Network-out vs. top-down innovation works best.

One key innovation resource that requires decentralization? People. Nobody knows that better than our CEO, Scott Burns. He works with change leaders every day who struggle to align the right talent with the right initiative because of organizational silos. Hierarchies and institutional knowledge are great at slowing down the innovation process. 

"The ideal innovation blueprint consists of many different kinds of teams within an organization, loosely coupled and well-directed." 
-Scott Burns

9. Innovation capacity isn't indicated by org chart position. 

In selecting an employee for your innovation team, that person's goals, collaboration history, capacity, and demonstrated learning ability should mean a whole lot more than his or her job title, pay grade, or tenure. After all, the former is much more likely to indicate potential success.

While some companies may not make this type of information readily accessible - we're working on changing that with Structural. It's time to invest in the data that creates networks and connections, driving innovation - this brings us to the final takeaway. 

10. Don't underestimate the power of internal data.

Scott Snyder emphasized the importance of bringing data into an organization to spur innovation. Scott Burns added to this, highlighting the power of a company's internal data. If an organization is looking to decentralize the people aspect of its innovation resources, every employee needs to know who to reach out to for what, and at the right time. In Scott's words, this type of empowerment allows everyone to "...tap into the full power of the enterprise."

This list just skims the surface - access the full event recording, above, for a more in-depth look into each of these takeaways and more. If your ready to take the first step towards organizational transformation,  check out our resource library for innovators.



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