Sponsorship for Innovation

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.

Preparing for Experimentation

Dr Vinay Dabholker’s article 4 levers of building experimentation capacity talks about 4 levers that organization :

  1. Right to Experiment
  2. Laboratory
  3. Sandbox
  4. Open innovation

I agree with his qualification of Right to Experimentation, and not leave experimentation open to all, with no defined expectations. There are some organization where it works for everyone but for most it makes sense to put experiments within boundaries for expected results.

Laboratory  of course is a support structure for experimentation and Sandbox as I understood it  is an instance of experimentation.

Open Innovation I think is a strategy on which organization has to take a call on, based on the kind of results that they seeking.

A very good article.

Innovative Thinking

Tony Golsby-Smith’s article on Innovative thinking in HBR recommends hiring people from humanities. Tony says that people who study literature and arts can see the big picture and hence bring those perspectives to table. I agree the people with humanities background should have more curiosity than say management students but I guess the scientists should have the same curiosity. The argument that humanists are trained to be curious is not universally true. I am not sure about the ability to get under the customer’s skin too as that requires ability to connect with people which is not people in any field are trained to be, it is something some people are born with and some learn through experiences. 
In my opinion this argument can be generalized. You ned diversity in your workforce and in your management teams. This will bring in the ideas from various fields that you can then customize for your industry and environment and use. And it is time organizations acknowledge that education just provides the base grounding is not an end all that they should look at before hiring people, just like they should  avoid the trap created by alumni of B-schools that makes them believe they are the best. There are enough examples to prove the otherwise. 

Vijay Govindrajan on Innovation

Vijay Govindrajan’s insights on how to take innovations to market in S&B actually talks about how to balance innovation engine and performance engine ( the core business) within an organization so that revenue generation is ensured both for today and tomorrow. 
He talks about the ideal way to place the two engines in the organization chart, so that they compliment each other rather than compete with each other. He also emphasizes that companies that intend to be innovation driven should not underestimate the role of performance engine which is generating the revenues today. 
One of the most balances, insights based article that I have read on Innovation and I agree with everything that he says. 

Ideal Innovator

Quoting from FutureThink’s Innovation newsletter: 

Define Your Ideal Innovator

As you look to develop and grow your innovation team, take a few moments to define your ideal innovator. There is no one “type” that defines an innovator. Many are creative, flexible, collaborative, entrepreneurial, analytical, strong leaders, etc... However, the specific combination of skills that will make an innovator successful differs in each organization. It’s important to identify and prioritize what it takes to be a successful innovator in your own organization. What skills does someone on your innovation team need to have? What experiences? What mindset? 
Open up a blank document, and create a few different headings: Skills, Experience, Mindset, Education, Outlook, Interests, etc. Under each heading, jot down what your ideal innovator looks like. Once you’ve completed this quick exercise, you will have in front of you a wish list for your innovation team.

I think this is a good way to get clarity on the composition of the desired team for Innovation initiatives. It gives you broad parameters that you should have in mind while forming the team and while assessing the gaps in the team. At the next level you can think of at what stages do you need what skill and practically speaking you would need to get certain skills at certain stages of the initiative, and you may not need them always. 

Sharing this framework can also help them assess themselves for the given challenge. 

Think about it. 

Choose the people who surround you

Paul Salone in his article on “Who challenges your thinking?”, suggests that you go out and meet as many different types of people as you can and learn from them.

He also advises being careful of the kind of people you spend the most time with as they tend to influence your thoughts and behavior. I totally agree with this.

In fact, when I teach/train at corporates, I always ask people who do you go out for lunch and coffee with during your breaks and the answer is invariably the person I work with or the person who sits next to me. I suggest that you go out for lunch on a regular basis with people from other departments, even if you do not have any direct work relationship with them and this would give you insight into how they work and what they do besides building your network within the organization.

Talking to people who are not like you, either by way of culture, ethnicity or by way of profession, age, gender, class, society, location widens your perspective more than anything else. So go out and explore the opportunity that each individual offers you. And choose to surround yourself with the ones who challenge you and help you grow.

Trust & Innovation

Raj Sisodia, the author of Firms of Endearment, talks about the trust in organizations. He mentions examples where organizations have moved from being low trust to high trust and the amount of effort involved in doing so. He makes a very important point when he says that organizations always expect the employees to be trustworthy but they do not always reciprocate the same. He also mentions building of trust as a long term goal as it takes time to build a trust in a large established organization.
I would like to add that Innovation will flourish in a high-trust organization. By its very nature, Innovation is a high risk game and one can never predict the outcome. People would be willing to take more risk if they can trust their teams, their managers and leadership. If they can trust them to share their ideas, if they can trust them to support them and share the credit if the idea take off finally, they will come forth and contribute in a much bigger way to the organization. 
Interestingly, trust is big reciprocal trait. When you trust someone, you invite them to trust you. And unless one of you have hidden agendas, this can be the beginning of a trusting relationship. 

Travel and Innovation

Paul Sloane in his recent newsletter says “Recently I visited the beautiful city of Antwerp and while there I filled my car at a fully automated petrol station.  There was no attendant and no shop.  You just put your credit card into the machine and then fill up.  It reminded me of two innovation lessons.  You can always get innovative ideas by traveling because people in other countries solve problems in different ways.  Secondly a good way to innovate is by eliminating things – in this case the attendant and the shop.”

Now what this small note tells me is that traveling to a new place can fuel your innovation quotient. You can pick up ideas from the way people in this country live and deal with the inherent problems that they have in their system. For example visitors to India can pick up a tip or two on Jugaad. The moment you are in an environment other than you live in, you start seeing the things that are obviously different from your own. It reminds me that a few years back I was traveling in Bhutan and I realized there not many shops selling clothes or garments. In fact the small number of shops that did have clothes were not the clothes common people were wearing there and were obviously meant for the high end visitors. Upon enquiry I figured out that most people there weave their own clothes, which may seem very primitive to most of us, but it is the way of life there. Now you never know when this brainwave strikes someone and they make this idea of weaving your own cloth popular and it may become a fashion statement to wear self woven clothes. 

Secondly, the difference between how you operate and how they operate can give you the models or small tricks to use while doing a formal idea generation, like the author picked up the idea of elimination which can be and is used popularly in product designs. 

On a lighter note, this tells is that a true professional will always find his subject’s angle no matter he or she is, working or on vacation.

Idle time for Innovation

Clive Thompson argues that Idling Mind is Important for Innovation . He recommends day dreaming and explains how the brain works when you day dream. He says it mind wandering is a very involved task.

I could not agree more.

The industrial age generation brought on the gene of focussing on the task, organizing our thoughts and mental thinking process. As a result we lost out unstructured time and unstructured thinking, not allowing our brain to create and search its own patterns or do the regular processing of information.

So you want to be innovative? Go ahead take your long pending vacation, or at least go for a coffee break with someone who is not professionally related. Choose your own length and frequency of break, but take it regularly.

Remember Archemedis got his ‘Eureka’ moment when he was relaxing in a bathtub.