Introducing Reverse Innovation

26 May 2021

What is reverse innovation

Stephen Green of CUBED Mindset explains where the term originated and more about how it works.

Where did the term ‘Reverse Innovation’ come from?

In truth, it’s an accidental term that sprung from a conversation which led to it being used as a header on an email exchange.  

From there, it just seemed to fit and stick.

So, what is Reverse Innovation?

Reverse innovation poses a question and offers a framework that provides the answer.

How much can you learn about your own organisation and how many of your own challenges can you solve by applying a combination of your own experience along with core innovation principles to address someone else’s challenges?

By taking an outside-in approach (albeit a twist on the traditional idea of outside-in strategy) participants in a reverse innovation programme have no option but to take on the perspective of those they’re working alongside.

Critically, reverse innovation centres around bringing together large and mid-sized organisations with small, but growth-focused SMEs. It effectively puts a temporary innovation management team around a business owner who has limited, if any, experience of working with a management team.

That might sound like the focus is entirely on the small business but that’s certainly not the case, with mutual benefit driving the agenda, rather than altruism and CSR.

How can it apply to businesses of all sizes?

At the risk of gross oversimplification and stereotyping, large organisations have to work within corporate constraints or processes whilst small businesses often lack the required breadth of skills and resources in key areas that will be vital to their sustainability, evolution and growth.

More often than not, small businesses are driven by necessity – which as we know is the mother of all invention.

No doubt this has been a key driver behind Challenge North East, an innovation programme launched to identify solutions to issues created by COVID-19 and enable SMEs to develop and test these solutions with large regional partners who could adopt them.

Many larger businesses strive to take on the characteristics of smaller, entrepreneurial businesses – flexibility, agility, resourcefulness, innovation. And many of them approach it through intrapreneurship, a term first used back in 1978, according to Forbes.

Its originator, Gifford Pinchot III, describes “intrapreneurs as employees who do for corporate innovation what an entrepreneur does for his or her start-up.”

How can Reverse Innovation help me?

What better way to get under the skin and delve into the mindset of the entrepreneur than to work alongside a real-life example?

More importantly, taking part in a reverse innovation programme addresses another key challenge for those who work in larger businesses and organisations.

Organisational structure, internal politics and the pressures and constraints of daily routines can stifle creativity.

By abstracting themselves completely, participants are offered the freedom to explore new ideas stimulated both by the need to resolve others’ challenges and by taking on the perspectives of their peers on the programme.

In doing so, they’re given the opportunity to disrupt the way they think about their own challenges.

Applying established core innovation principles also makes it possible to address a broad range of challenges and identify numerous possible solutions but at the same time focus in on areas and actions that will deliver greatest impact when they return to the day job.

As one participant in an early reverse innovation programme points out, ‘it’s a unique forum to share ideas and understand business from a different perspective. Everything you explore relates directly to your workplace. Inspiring. Motivating. Thought-provoking.’

An SME owner on the same programme, who has since gone on to build and sell his business, described the experience as ‘life-changing’.

How can I apply it to my business?

After recently running a taster session for Innovation SuperNetwork partners, we’ll be looking to get our next programme up and running soon. If you’d like to know more, or would like your people or business to get involved find out more on the CUBED Mindset website.

If you’re a North East business looking to grow, contact the Innovation SuperNetwork team to see how we can help you take it to the next level through innovation, funding or connections.

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