In the late 1950s, Harley Earl, head of the Styling Division at General Motors, employed 10 women designers to create vehicles that would appeal to female consumers. Quickly known as the Damsels of Design, the group had real impact for the firm in tapping into what was calculated then to be a segment – U.S. women with $42 billon of disposable income. One of the new hires, Suzanne Vanderbilt, worked her way up the corporate ladder, becoming the chief designer of Chevrolet’s Interior Studio.

About five years later, in 1962, Stephanie Shirley founded a software programming company in England. Although she called it Freelance Programmers and took care to adapt her first name to “Steve”, the business acquired the nickname of Pregnant Programmers. Stephanie primarily employed women who were about to give birth or had young children to look after. After 13 years, the business had 300 employees, 99 percent of them women. It then IPO-ed and was later acquired by what is now Sopra Steria of France.

Innovation and creativity, as Frank Cutitta rightly highlights in his posts on THRIVE, typically sit uneasily with norms and convention. The success stories of the Damsels of Design and the Pregnant Programmers have been, frankly, far too rare. They happen to be the exceptions – women succeeding in notoriously male-dominated industries – that prove the rule: Scaling innovation beyond a small core team still eludes most organizations.

Why? To use a medical metaphor, the immune system of the legacy business is very prompt at reacting and rejecting the innovative implant. Or, to paraphrase, culture eats innovation for breakfast.

So, what might be done about it? Here are four approaches.

  • Some large organizations, such as British Telecom and Unilever, set up internal incubators. These are, in essence, safe spaces where new business ideas can be trialed, grown and made ready to transition into the “mothership”. Different rules apply for these incubators, for example, on acceptable investment payback periods, remuneration and profitability levels.
  • Other organizations, such as Amdocs, a customer experience software company serving the telecommunications market, use mergers and acquisitions (M&A) to augment their own innovation engines. Mindful of the hurdles that come from the inevitable cultural differences between the acquiring and the acquired parties, Amdocs tends to purchase small, fast-growing companies. These typically account for no more than a couple of percent of Amdocs’ revenue, making it easier to integrate new innovations into business as usual.
  • 3M reached a different conclusion from the cultural antagonism opposing legacy and innovation. As early as 1948, it gave employees 15 percent of their paid time to innovate. The idea of mobilizing staff in the pursuit of new products underpins a large portion of the more than 22,000 patents held by 3M. That approach was then adopted by others, including HP and Google.
  • DXC Technology is an example of a company that employs a fourth approach. In order to inject innovation into its corporate DNA and scale it, DXC co-creates with customers. Global research has identified the motivations of business-to-business decision makers to engage with their technology suppliers. Interestingly, the desire to provide input into the offerings roadmap was highest, at 35 percent, among Japanese executives – double the European level.

It is, of course, possible to mix and match these four approaches to arrive at a blend that works for your business. It is, in fact, desirable: Many of the companies named above do just that. It’s worth remembering, too, that budgets are finite. Measurable results from innovation pursuits must eventually be delivered at scale.

Changed per both Wikipedia and this reference :