Making The Business Case

Meme – Credible Measurable Benefits

Innovators must find project funding  even when the rules are stacked against them.

Many new ideas are ill conceived, unduly disruptive, or simply irreverent, so there is no surprise that well managed organizations evaluate potential project investments based on hard facts.   How much will this cost?   What are the risks and pitfalls?  Do you want a budget?  Quantify the business value… and present an ROI.  

The problem is, this competition is stacked against original untested proposals.  Only modest ideas, traditional business projects offering tangible cost reductions and incremental improvements to the status quo, are so conveniently replete with hard data.  Their benefits are easy to measure and quantify.  The risks and costs are equally familiar.   

The business case for modifying the status quo is usually humble but credible.    

In contrast, meaningful innovations look out into uncertain future, dabbling in strategic transformations of competitive advantage, market position, and customer value.  Imprecise revenue growth rather than concrete cost reduction is usually the focus.  The opportunities are exciting but also vague and distant.   

Traditional projects with their predictable path to a handful of pennies can easily seem more prudent than innovation’s speculation on a wheelbarrow full of opportunity.    There are several options for leveling the playing field.

  • Change the Debate – Don’t make the case based on quantified measures.  Stand up and deliver a passionate vision of the future.  This works best when the organization is in chaos and collapse.  Desperation opens people’s mind to a different kind of message.
  • Begin Small – Don’t try to get approval for a costly untried idea.  Instead, launch an unauthorized skunk works project or an under the radar prototype.  Make things work and become part of the status quo before asking for big funding.
  • Partner– Find a more traditional project that is likely to be approved (preferably one with a big budget) and imbed the innovation within its mission.  This sounds nefarious, but it can actually work to the benefit of both the host project and the innovators.  
  • Practice Creative Math – Hypothesize certainty where none actually exists.  Stride through the gate, brandishing a doctored passport with hard numbers that you’ve pulled from the air.   This can be a dangerous way to begin a hard journey, since there is a good chance these made up promises will resurface later in the project. 


Hard numbers are seldom your friend.  Find a different way to get past the guards of the budget. 

Good Reads: 

Seth Godin – Making Innovation happen

Christenson – Innovators Dillema

Brainstorming Questions

  • What are the rules of the approval game?  What do we have to prove to make the cut?
  • Is there concrete data to make our case?  What data?  Is it credible? 
  • Do our promises sound just like everyone else’s idealistic promises?
  • Do we need approval?  Can we get started under the radar?
  • Is there a natural partner for our work?  How would we improve their project?  What kind of Pony do we have to offer them?  (solve a problem, simplify something, increase influence, etc.)

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