Maxwell Wessel in his HBR Article How to Innovate with an Executive Sponsor talks about the role of sponsorship in organizational Innovation. He rightly recognizes that middle managers’ dilemma when he says: Middle managers with limited resources and set evaluation metrics will simply operate in a predictable fashion. He also talks about the main function of sponsors – removing any roadblock from the path of Innovation.
In my opinion, the commitment that the sponsor shows impacts the seriousness with which others take innovation. When people involved know that they have support from the top management, they are more committed and can find support in the system relatively easily.
On the side he also mentions why mini-test should be used as preferred approach by the innovation teams instead of prototypes. He also observes that most meaningful innovations and the disruptive products have their seeds in very small experiments, rather than large initiatives. I would say more often than not. Iteration is another activity that is usually not budgeted for in the innovation projects, while it is an imminent truth of innovation projects that you have to go through a series of iterations, making changes based on various factors like technology, budgets, customer feedback and any changes in external dynamics like markets and policy.
To sum up, sponsors need to understand the level and kind of support and commitment that they need to lend to Innovation programs and the DNA of most commercial organizations are not naturally inclined towards risky Innovation projects.