we spoke about the business imperatives behind innovation. We know that in today’s fast-paced market it’s important to evolve if you want to get ahead, but just how easy is this?

While start-ups are often built on revolutionary ideas, creating something truly new is a much tougher challenge for larger companies.

With levels of bureaucracy, procedures and red-tape to cut through, just how viable is it for a multinational to make a real change to its existing business model or introduce something new to market?

As it turns out, it’s extremely possible! Just look at Google and Apple. Of course, those are companies built around innovation from the ground up. But what about those with more traditional organisational structures?

We turned once more to our extensive panel of innovation experts…

Is there room for true innovation within larger organisations?

Some of those who responded expressed doubt about this, but this was based more on an unwillingness than any real procedural inability. Seveeral commenters highlighted the importance of having dedicated teams and evangelists if you want to drive something new to market.

Sri Sharma, Managing Director at Net Media Planet told us:

Yes but it requires champions who will own it, face politics and drive change and innovation.

While Dr Mark K. Smith, CEO at ipadio highlighted the importance of avoiding too much red tape and not focussing too much on large scale considerations in the initial ideas phase:

Maybe. Although so often the large companies that are innovative are actually driven by few people with a laser-like focus of what they want. I think if businesses give business units responsibility for innovation and keep those units small then it can work. Innovation by committee is rarely innovative.

Chris Ward from Kenshoo also thought that speed was essential. The less procrastination involved the better. Otherwise, you risk missing out on changes in demand:

Innovation is the only way ahead. For instance, Nokia got left behind in the smart phone race simply because they weren’t quick enough to identify the gap in the market and develop a product that would satisfy the need generated by their customers. Every company understands the need to innovate.

The answer to this question lies in how quickly they can foster a culture that thinks innovation and jump on the track!

Indeed, may felt that innovation was a ‘must have’, and it was worth the expense of reorganisation to create space and freedom for specialist departments concentrating solely on new ideas and their implementation. 

Nick Gee, Mobile Director at Auto Trader:

Of course, however it does depend on the organisation’s size and the competitive pressures it faces as well its ability to manage and adapt to cultural change. However if you stand still more often than not you get left behind, so change is essential.

James Poletti, Bounce:

The ‘Labs’ departments of some of the biggest agencies are powerhouses of innovation, even if that’s just in their content-curating role. But, no doubt the landscape will continue to be a complex picture mixing conservatism with more radical agendas.

Seth Richardson CEO DC Storm

Of course, you just have to look at the shortlist, which includes companies like Debenhams, John Lewis, HSBC and Tesco. With the economy as it is, no company is safe and everyone has to innovate to stay ahead of the competition, especially online.

Overcoming these organisational problems was key to success. Again and again we were told that smaller, semi-automatous groups worked better than projects run across several departments.

Chris Gorell Barnes, Founder and CEO of Adjust Your Set had this to say:

Absolutely, we’ve already seen many ‘traditional’ companies embrace innovation, just take a look at what Marks & Spencer has done with its Plan A work. Also, the launch of the BBC iPlayer required various departments to work together and the company certainly took a risk with it.

The issue large organisations face is they often have various innovation centres spread across different departments so ideas don’t often get to surface. It takes someone senior to give it the go ahead and backing to make it work and unfortunately, like Kodak for example, if you don’t innovate you fall behind..”

While Cognitive Match’s CEO Alex Kelleher and Rob Shaw, Managing Director  at Epiphany both underlined the danger of spreading efforts too thinly or having groups with no clear leadership or unclear goals:


I think they have to.  It’s been great working with Marketing Directors from some of our largest clients who are making the most of what search marketing has to offer and in doing so are leading a cultural revolution within their organisation. 

The biggest companies are having to look at how they can change their old approaches and processes to allow people the capacity to innovate.


Generally speaking it is a lot harder with larger organisations, especially those that have a more traditional culture and philosophy. There are exceptions; companies like Samsung are thriving due to their innovation, whereas RIM (Blackberry) have suffered due to their lack of innovation and leadership.”

Many larger organisations may feel that too much change could be a threat to their successful core business, but Charlie Rowan, founder of Whishin, felt that a gradual process of small changes could be equally successful:

Perhaps not in their main offering. There is no need for (for example) Heinz Ketchup to innovate its product. But in larger organisations there are so many parts of their process there will always be ways of innovating to cut costs, streamline the process or sell the product.

Key takeaways:

Overall, respondents told us that innovation was possibly for larger businesses, but required several key points to ensure success:

  • Clear leadership, goals and resourcing.
  • Innovative project groups unencumbered by committee decisions (at least initially)
  • An awareness that innovation need not mean grand-scale change, and can help business whatever the level of implementation.

We’re fast approaching our 2012 Innovation awards ceremony on February 23rd. We’ve selected the venue, set the date and fired up the Spotify playlist (feel free to add your tunes to our selections!) for a great night of food, dancing and some incredible entertainment.

If you’d like to attend, head over to our events page to view this year’s shortlist and book your table.

In the meantime we’ll continue to ask the shortlisted candidates for their takes on innovation, including seeing what characteristics you should look for when hiring innovators, and seeing which innovations they wish they’d had the foresight to come up with.