In his HBR Blog A Chief Innovation Officer’s Actual Responsibilities, Alessandro Di Fiore talks about 7 different activities that an Innovation leader needs to do or the areas they need to focus on. Towards the end, they have given a web diagram with a couple of examples of how Innovation leaders can both evaluate themselves on these parameters and maybe define their priorities for the next year or so.
I quite like their set of responsibilities – it is a good mix of supporting the current system and evolving a new one. For example, when they say ‘Running Idea Generation’ platforms they are talking about a platform that can be used for finding solutions to current problems as well as for generating ideas for the future. Sometimes Innovation programs tend to be too isolated from the current business reality and that kind of limits their impact. If you help people with your tools to solve their existing problems, you can invite them to use the same tools to solve the future or anticipated problems too.
Similarly, sheltering promising projects is very important. There are many dangers and obstacles that promising projects have to go through, the biggest being internal skepticism. Then there might be failures that may not be easy to explain, there would be low phases when the team itself would like to give up and there may be environmental changes that may need to be accommodated. All these phases would need a strong leader to keep the vision intact to prevent the projects from dying.
For developing skills I would assume nurturing skills and letting people hone their own skills is more important than training. I believe what you can be taught is limited but what you can learn is virtually unlimited or infinite. Somehow corporate world in the last couple of decades has paid a lot of attention to training and not necessarily learning. For a team to be innovative, it is the ability to learn all the time that is crucial.
If you are an Innovation leader in your organization/society, so test yourself on the web diagram – where you stand and it should help you choose where you should be.