Do Dragons Nurture Ideas or Slaughter Them?

Imagine you are an entrepreneur

You have a great idea that needs funding, what do you do? Find a venture capitalist or business angel and ask them to invest.  The chances are the first one will say no, but if it is a good idea and you ask ten dragons then maybe one will say yes.

Nine no’s to one yes and you are in business

Now imagine you are an intrepreneur

You work in a large company and you have a great idea that needs funding, what do you do?  Ask your manager to invest, then ask his manager and then ask the investment committee and the risk committee and the innovation committee.  The chances are the first one will say yes, but by the time you have asked ten managers then no doubt one will say no.

Nine yes’s to one no and you are out of luck

Large organisations stifle innovation

Pushing your idea through is hard enough if you are senior. If you work at the bottom of the tree you might as well pack up and go home.

So if you believe your junior staff might have an idea or two (they just might) you have a cultural challenge or two to overcome.

How could you invest in ideas?

  • Allocate seed funding to every manager, not too much,  to spend as they like, no questions asked
  • Invest in 20% time (or 10% or 5%) — or even just give it a go
  • Hold an internal dragons den, back a portfolio of projects, see what happens
  • Have a prototype competition with guaranteed funding for the best first stab
  • Redesign your approval process – no project is stopped unless it gets blackballed twice
  • Run a kick-start session, see how many ideas are out there

You don’t have to promote and invest in your staff ideas

They might all be rubbish, they may be hideously risky, but you will never be a real dragon if you are so busy slaughtering ideas that you never have the time to nurture one.

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The dragon

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Image by eigerdaz


  1. Bob Spencer says:

    Interesting post James. Two years ago I invested a lot of time teaching people how to solve problems, then asked them to go and find problems to solve…

    To ‘incentivise’ the whole process we created a Dragon Den event. Twice a year people have the chance to present their ideas to their local managers and peers where they get recognition and advice. The best (most of them) then present to me and my team about a month later. At this stage two things happen. They all get a mentor from my team to develop the idea, and the best go forward to a National event and present to the MD and other senior managers from the business. At last years event we presented about £7m of opportunity (about £4m of which has been delivered) and then all went out and got drunk (proper recognition!)

    Managers have been genuinely blown away by the energy and quality of ideas generated. We employ some pretty smart ‘intrepreneurs’ – Who knew.

  2. James,

    Love your ideas and what they could potentially do to boost innovation and process improvement… never mind employee engagement (especially if your contributions are appreciated – and perhaps one is even funded).

    Annette :-)

  3. Hello James,

    I like the way you illustrate the remarkable difference between the entrepreneur-VC model and the entrepreneur-corporate model. The first one occurs to me as an e-bay model: you put out your ‘product’ release to the VC’s and allow them to bid. And all you need is one VC to enter into the game, bid, and your ‘product’ is on its way. Or you are in a bureaucracy and there the game is to stop any change to the existing way of doing things. And so it does not matter how many people say ‘yes’, all you need is one person to say ‘no’.

    As for your recommendations, it occurs to me that what is missing is the vital importance of context. Specifically, is there any hunger for trying out new ‘stuff’, of doing things differently, for creating new-innovative products. for taking risks? Here Ryanair comes to mind. Notice the changes that are happening now. Why? Because the context has shifted dramatically from ‘we are doing great, best budget airline in Europe, making lots of profit, don’t need to listen to customers…’ to ‘shit we are in trouble, we need to make changes, else I (CEO) will be losing my job, and everyone will laugh at me…’.

    Context is decisive. The right content (tools, tips, techniques, processes, people, products) showing up in an inappropriate context will not be used well. Unsuitable content showing up in the right context will not be an issue. Why? Because the context itself will call forth the ingenuity-resourcefulness of the people to create the content that needs to be created to fulfil on the mission-purpose.

    All the best,

  4. Hi James,
    I worked for a very large corporation once in an innovation capacity with some success. However, the biggest killer of ideas was the size of ideas that we needed to generate to get the senior execs excited or ‘out of bed’. How do we get over that? There were lots of ideas but most, if not all, of them weren’t big enough. Killed the spirit of innovation just a bit despite having a good process.


    • James Lawther says:

      Fascinating, so they ignored all the good small ideas?

      I bet that was truly motivational for all concerned

      • They didn’t ignore all of the small ideas. Some of them went to pilot but often they were discontinued, not because they didn’t work, but because they didn’t scale to the necessary size.

        Good learning experience but, ultimately, a bit disappointing.

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