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The first time I heard Stephen Delo speak, it was at the Australian Intrapreneurs Summit. He was talking about some truly fascinating ideas: how 3D printing could be used at sea, possibilities for drones, new methods for making the Royal Australian Navy more sustainable, and beyond.

But I wanted to learn more about how he was able to find all of these great ideas from his sailors.

In short, the secret to the Royal Australian Navy’s intrapreneurial success is an in-depth and earnest mentoring program that networks the sailors (and their ideas) to those within the Royal Australian Navy who can help develop that idea into something that is adopted Navy-wide. And as straightforward as that sounds, the activities and best practices necessary to maintain that program are much more complex, but here are a few of the guiding principles that drive their approach to innovation that any innovation manager can adopt.

Start from a position of “yes.” A lot of ideas seem hard to push through existing systems or sometimes even impossible. The first moment you feel yourself starting to hit upon a “no,” try instead to assume a “yes” and use that assumption to guide the next step. This approach builds goodwill with the employee who is risking a lot by coming to you and you also might learn something even if you don’t end up moving the idea forward. So….

Ask good questions. If you assume that you’re going to move forward with an idea, you’ll need to understand a lot more about it. If you’re going to make it happen, what resources will you need? Who needs to be on board? What haven’t you discovered yet? A big part of Delo’s job is helping innovators nurture their ideas by asking the right questions and having them look at angles they haven’t noticed before. This questions-based instruction not only builds out the idea, but helps the innovator to become more confident in their idea in the process as they start to know every corner of it and can later anticipate those questions as the idea develops.

Recognition must be a cornerstone of your program. The Navy recognizes their intrapreneurs which in turn helps the intrapreneur build faith in the program. Participants are recognized by having the commander and the intrapreneur’s team notified and having an award put on their record. If there is opportunity for an in-person event to honor their contribution, then they take advantage of that, as well.

To learn more about the Royal Australian Navy and their advanced intrapreneurship program, listen to the full podcast interview here.

About the Author

Rob Hoehn is the co-founder and CEO of IdeaScale: the largest open innovation software platform in the world. Hoehn launched crowdsourcing software as part of the open government initiative and IdeaScale’s robust portfolio now includes many other industry notables, such as EA Sports, NBC, NASA, Xerox and many others. Prior to IdeaScale, Hoehn was Vice President of Client Services at Survey Analytics.

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