How to Innovate Without Money

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How do you deal with the situation where you’re supposed to innovate but have no budget?

It is a situation surprisingly common. Management, especially those who are proponents of innovation culture, feel that all that it takes to get more innovation is to assign a couple of people the task. In many organisations, in fact, finding people is much easier than finding money, so this seems like an easy way to get an innovation programme started.

The issue with this is that making innovation happen is not just about ideas and people. It also requires execution, which is the difference between an idea which sits around gathering dust, and one which can actually be converted into something that creates revenue. Execution, usually, requires money.

Therefore innovators with no budget at all will almost always fail, and here is the reason.

Before anyone can make an investment decision in something new, there are three key questions which need to be answered. The first, which is “can we do this”, is really technical: are the technologies, production capabilities, management systems, and other artefacts needed to create the innovation available? If not, can they be created at a reasonable price? The second question is “Should we do this”, which is actually about the financials of the innovation. And the third question is “When?”, which has to do with market entry timing.

In order to answer such questions, innovators will probably have to pay for research, prototypes and, potentially, the time of analysts. It is rare indeed that an innovation group will have access to all these capabilities in house.

Consequently, an innovator with no money at all has almost no alternative but to try to answer all the key questions him or herself. This mostly results in exceptionally poor business cases, due to the lack of any substantive detail. The result is innovators wind up tossing poorly formed propositions at stakeholders and hoping for the best. Usually, they don’t get taken seriously.