Strategic clarity and innovation
Here's the thought experiment. In a firm that has a very clear purpose or strategy that everyone understands, it is easy to generate and evaluate ideas. New ideas either support or augment the strategic purpose that people understand, or they don't. In that environment, it may be difficult to obtain funding for an idea, but it shouldn't be difficult to gain agreement that the idea aligns to the strategies and core purpose of the business. Now, consider a firm that does not have a clear, communicated strategy. How does one recognize a good idea, if the strategy and direction of the business is not clear? What may appear to be a good idea in one quarter of the business may be shrugged off in another, since each business unit or team may have its own interpretation of the strategy and direction of the business.
I suspect that whether you look at Apple or Google, or W.L. Gore or other "innovative" firms it is relatively clear top down and across the organization "what business they are in" and what their core objectives and strategies are. If it's evident from the outside looking in, then certainly it must be relatively clear on the inside. This constancy of purpose and strategy, well communicated, reinforced and compensated, is what makes these firms successful at innovation. Since innovation is inherently risky and uncertain, the more clarity and direction provided, the easier the work becomes. On the other hand, I have worked recently with firms where mid and senior level managers are constantly struggling to understand what their core mission and strategic intent is - which leads to much back and forth as to what is innovation and how it can be applied within the firm.
David Ogilvy, the famous ad man, said that he loved the "freedom of a tight brief". In other words, the more structure and information available about the expected outcomes, the easier his work became. In the same way, firms that can define their objectives, strategies and purposes and communicate those effectively internally and externally have a huge advantage when it comes to innovation, since they have established a clarity of purpose within their organization, which builds scope for the innovation teams. Firms that lack the ability to define their strategy and communicate it effectively can still innovate, but at a much more tactical level. Innovation will thrive at the level of the organization where the strategies and purpose can be defined explicitly and will struggle where the strategies and strategic intent are less well defined.