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Seven Ways to Lead Innovation with Little to No Budget

Companies fear that if they're not continuously looking to and planning for the future, they'll pick their head up one day to find that the world has passed them by. (They're right)

So they've hired you to lead their innovation department. Box checked.

...Except there is one little problem. They haven't given you a healthy budget, which makes innovation merely a pipe dream, right? Not necessarily.

Before you throw your hands up and walk away, give these seven methods a shot:

1. Reassess how much money you really need

A silver lining to not having a budget is that it forces you to be crystal clear about your mission; what you're setting out to accomplish, how you plan to get there, and what you need in order to pull it off.

Form your game plan and then come back to question it. Is this the right outcome to pursue? Is there a simpler way to get there? What can we cut out and still meet our objective?

Once you've boiled your project plan down to its core, then assess how much money (or resources) you really need.

2. Do it yourself

Now you're only one person, BUT you are one, very capable person, who can make a real difference.

In order to avoid being stuck with a minuscule budget forever, you want to ensure that each and every innovation project you lead supplies evidence to prove the value of innovation to your company.

So start super small and identify an innovation project that if finished would provide you with the proof you need. Then do it yourself.

3. Gather a group of volunteers

Look around you and beyond in search of internal allies willing to donate their time to be a part of your innovation initiatives.

Recruit anyone who is devoted to helping you innovate and band them into your innovation team. These people are special.

If you treat them right and give them a platform to exercise their creativity, you'll gain the expertise you need without forking up money you don't have.

4. Form a Mutually beneficial collaboration

Maybe you identify an outside expert that is vital to your innovation project.

Reach out to them, start your relationship (if you haven't already), let them know about your project, and ask them if they'd be interested in collaborating in a way that is mutually beneficial to you both.

Figure out what, other than money, they want from you and your work together.

5. Host Innovation Sessions

Lucky for you, innovation is fun. Because of this, your colleagues will be eager to spend an hour of their week joining you for a brainstorm or some other innovation activity.

Plan an innovation session that will satisfy a gap in your project and then invite colleagues from the disciplines and perspectives that would bolster your efforts.

Your incredibly important role in this is to plan, prepare, and facilitate the session. Let your guests generate ideas and conversation. After all, it is them that you desperately need.

6. Make Everyone An Innovator

The foundation of innovation is creativity and everyone is capable of being creative, so long as you help them untap it.

Send your colleagues information and techniques on how to untap their creativity and then challenge and empower them to always be innovating.

For example, send everyone in your company an email describing the types of innovation opportunities you want them to look for and offer a lunch date to anyone who comes to you with an opportunity they've identified. Use that lunch to listen, learn, and grow your relationship with them.

7. Compensate With Something Other Than Money

Money isn't the only thing people value.

Look around and identify what else of value you have to give. Perhaps you have sample products, tickets to a big game, connections, or your own skills that an expert would love in exchange for their service.

Be open and honest with them, explaining that you don't have a budget for the project, but would love to figure out what else you can fairly compensate them with.


All of these methods are ways to innovate without a budget so that you can prove the value of innovation and then earn a budget for you and your team.

So start by making sure your mission is crystal clear, take a hard look at what you really need to pull the project off, and then get creative in order to acquire those resources.

Got any to add? What other methods have worked for you?


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