If somewhere deep in the corporate hierarchy an innovator has a very daring and promising innovation idea, the traditional advise is to first obtain top management commitment, in order to overcome the resistance that is to be expected later on during the innovation project.
However there are several issues associated with this traditional approach:
- You often get only one chance to pitch your idea at the top. If your idea is not convincing enough, not only are the executives going to say "no", they are probably going to remain negative indefinitely, due to anchoring bias and confirmation bias.
- Political power plays
- Forced to follow extensive corporate procedures
- Distortion by certain stakeholders with differing interests
- Pressure for short-term result.
That is why Paddy Miller and Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg in their article "The Case for Stealth Innovation" in the Harvard Business Review of March 2013 recommend another route:
- Stealth Sponsors: initially present your idea 1 or 2 levels below the C-level, provided they are powerful enough to get the project started.
- Stealth Testing: First create a proof of concept, collecting evidence of the value of your idea.
- Stealth Resourcing: Use funding from surrounding projects or departments with spare capacity.
- Stealth Branding: Create a cover story to develop your idea 'under the radar', for example by telling curious outsiders that it is part of some other project.
Although I can agree with the reality of the issues of traditonal innovation approaches that the authors mentioned, and although I appreciate their good intentions, I would still recommend to share your intended stealth approach at least in broad terms with a board member.