Innovation Sprints: How to jolt your organization out of quiescence

By Andy Cole, guest author

Most of us are familiar with corporate “death-by-bureaucracy.” Everyone wants to do things differently, and the problem or roadblock is often well known. Yet for various reasons, no clear action materializes.

It’s not hard to understand why this happens: most large bureaucracies do not properly incentivize action. Instead of creating strong motivation for employees to take chances, bureaucracies create circular, unproductive discussions.

There is a better way, which I call the “Innovation Sprint”. It’s an innovation method that attacks death-by-bureaucracy directly at its roots. Essentially, an Innovation Sprint is the corporate equivalent of what tech entrepreneurs call a “hack-a-thon” – but designed to solve common (often thorny) problems within the shared work environment of a large enterprise. Here’s how it works:

  1. Employee participants pitch new ideas and form teams
  2. Participants and moderators take all contributions and form teams to pursue and build out the best ideas
  3. Fully-immersed participants turn ideas into physical prototypes over the course of two full days
  4. Ideas become reality, and real markets are tested for viability
  5. Internal or external “coaches” or “mentors” support the process by providing industry expertise, leadership development, and inspiration
  6. Final prototypes and results are pitched to company executives and decision makers for evaluation and immediate project approval or rejection, based on metrics and guidelines previously determined

Across a dozen iterations of this process in real-world organizations, the Innovation Sprint has worked every time with spectacular results. The Sprint works by creating and harnessing:

  • Inertia – Jaded corporate warriors often stay on the sidelines because they’re prepared for yet another change in management direction. By contrast, Innovation Sprints are clear and simple and they drive direct, tangible output.
  • Energy – Innovation Sprints are lightning-fast compared to almost any other corporate process and they encourage equal parts competition and fun. As a result, Sprints act as an outlet for employees to unleash pent-up creativity, drive, and ambition.
  • Creativity – Innovation Sprints are highly collaborative, with a focus on co-location, full immersion, and constant interactivity. Because of this design, Sprints create a cycle of meaningful engagement and creativity as the ideas flow among participants.

Don’t let the simplicity fool you: an Innovation Sprint generates powerful results while setting an entrepreneurial tone. The next challenge involves figuring out how to best channel all the post-Sprint momentum!

Andy Cole organizes and facilitates highly engaging programs in innovation and entrepreneurship for established companies. After earning his MBA from Babson College – where he was President of the Entrepreneurship Club – Andy has launched two profitable companies and is currently working on his third.

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