This is part two of our interview with Jan Kennedy, CEO of the Academy for Corporate Entrepreneurship. See part one on building corporate entrepreneurs.


Design thinking and lean startup principles help companies collect, filter, and take advantage of data and observations to drive new products and services.

Jan Kennedy, CEO of the Academy for Corporate Entrepreneurship, agreed with this idea, saying organizations need to be able to collect (and synthesize) information so that the highest quality insights can continue through the innovation process. “[Data] is important. However, people get hung up on the data part too much. In the very early stages of developing new ideas, what we mean by ‘data’ is really ‘customer behavior,’ and trying to understand even who the customer is.”


Data can help us verify insights, but it can’t tell us the underlying customer beliefs, behaviors, or deep-rooted motivations.

Information about the customer is really most useful when it addresses a particular problem a customer has, and how we think we can solve the issue in a unique way. “But in large organizations, we plan and plan, and that causes us to make decisions based on assumptions,” explained Kennedy.

“That’s generally okay when you are working on slight improvements of last year’s product, because you already have piles of data and insight to base your decisions on.” But when an enterprise is working on much more innovative projects, or is looking to innovate much more rapidly, it takes a new approach to scaling ideas.

“That’s when you are walking into a black hole of unknowns, because you don’t have the data or insights from past experience, and some of those unknowns will be absolutely critical to the viability of your idea.”

One of the ways that global companies can drive customer-centric mindsets and build empathy-focused organizations is to develop innovation champions. These champions add value in multiple ways, explained Kennedy.


Innovation Champions demonstrate the value in discovery & customer-centric mindsets.

Innovation champions help in spreading intrapreneurial mindsets, one that seeks to learn and to discover, not to assume solely on data or on past successes.

Corporations that have lost their innovation mojo can suffer from the “Highest Persons Paid Opinion,” or the HIPPO effect, said Kennedy. Instead of critical decisions or solutions being developed on observations made around the customer, the HIPPO effect often means decision-making can rely on what worked in the past, or on weak data that doesn’t help us understand and answer the “why.”

“If we make decisions based on things we don’t know, then we will likely get ourselves into trouble down the road. If you don’t collect the data and/or observations for such decisions to be made, then usually the HIPPO rule will prevail.” Effective enterprise innovation champions work against this status quo mentality. The challenge is that many companies (and executives) don’t have the self-awareness to know that they are suffering from HIPPO. The innovation champion can be the objective one to evaluate whether or not this is happening.


Innovation Champions create the right kind of innovation inertia.

Innovation champions also help teams stay true to the process. Despite some of the resistance they may face early on, the discovery and initial incubation phases are important for large organizations, but teams must also stay true to the process, whether it’s lean, design thinking, or open methods.

“The type of experiment, the time-frame, and the complexity of the experiment are likely to be quite different for startups versus when applied in an enterprise setting. As a result, they can certainly require more preparation time within corporates than startups, which might be a surprise to hear,” Kennedy explained.

In a corporate setting, there’s often going to be much greater, established barriers—everything from legal, branding or regulatory requirements, all aimed at protecting the core business. Innovation champions help demonstrate resilience and communicate confidence to fellow colleagues so that they don’t give up on certain ideas too quickly.

“So intrapreneurs need to be more mindful, but at the same time they shouldn’t let these things always become a barrier. Some of the barriers can often be avoided by simply involving people from those different departments, as they can help the team navigate around road blocks.” Over time, companies tend to be able to shift and create more conducive guidelines concerning these types of experiments, said Kennedy. But it takes a champion in the beginning to model how this can be done.


The customer-centric enterprise

When Intuit—now deemed the “30-year old startup” for its ability to rapidly innovate—took steps to change its culture, the company created its Innovation Catalyst Program. Leaders at Intuit knew it was time to bring back the focus to customers, one of the main objectives of the program. The innovation program certainly started at the top, but the real traction came with champions who modeled and taught repeatable behaviors and methods to peers.

“Intuit reached into it’s organization to find the best designers and UX people and later added others who were maybe not so ‘expert’ in that field, but they were super passionate about building a system to further spread innovation with customers.”

After being exposed to lean startup methods, colleagues developed the “problem solver” mentality. Intuit team members went from asking, “How do we increase revenue?” to asking, “What customer problems can we solve?”

During a panel discussion hosted by Batterii at the 2015 Front End of Innovation conference, Anthony Lambrou, Worldwide Innovation at Pfizer, told the audience how Pfizer scales its innovation efforts using design thinking. “We had pockets of innovation, and that model worked, and it actually brought about really great ideas,” explained Lambrou, adding that the company wanted to expand the innovation function.

This involved experimenting and testing ideas rapidly, but it also relied heavily on their network of innovation champions. Those champions were key in getting early successes and they will remain key to scaling the effort across the entire company. Those champions will breed more champions and ultimately change the culture and way the company works.

Lambrou said Pfizer developed the tool- and cultural-based framework centrally. Using a train-the-trainer setup, the global network of 400 champions spread design thinking and innovative thinking behaviors and methods across the organization.

Each of the day-to-day training programs can be amended and adapted, Lambrou said. “We run sessions through those particular trainers, but we also realize it’s not just set up to one structured format…we tailor it.”

That innovation-training can fit within colleagues’ normal, daily routine, and is combined with a focus on cultural initiatives where people can learn behaviors conducive to injecting freshness and adopting innovation-oriented behaviors.

“Both of these are examples where the ‘big picture’ may be planned out centrally, but over a period of months, these ‘champions’ can really accelerate engagement and passion in every single colleague, and on a global basis,” said Kennedy.

“It is no wonder, then, both companies are seeing transformative innovation. These innovation champions are key to driving the culture change needed for that transformation.”


About Jan Kennedy

Jan Kennedy is founder and CEO of the Academy for Corporate Entrepreneurship. Inspired by the work of the Founder Institute, the world’s largest startup training and entrepreneur launchpad, Kennedy built the company on lean startup methods, with The Lean Startup by Eric Ries and The Lean Entrepreneur by Brant Cooper and Patric Vlaskowitz acting as driving forces behind the organization’s development. Kennedy is still a Director at the Founder Institute. Find more information on AfCE’s website.


Ready to accelerate your innovation program?

Use Batterii for research, trend spotting, business model development, product service and design, and concept development. Instead of carrying a backpack and notebook, use Batterii’s mobile app. See how Batterii works, and download this presentation given by John Klick, an innovation leader at Pfizer, and Batterii’s CEO Kevin Cummins on how Pfizer scaled its innovation program to more than 70,000 employees.


Download the presentation >