I recently spoke at innov8, a conference on corporate innovation in Tel-Aviv. Here’s the first key (out of three) that I shared for the successful launch of an innovation program within any organization.
Check out my book “The PEAK innovation principles” on Amazon.
Here’s a session I gave recently at our annual UX event where I talk about systematic innovation and the pitfalls you must avoid. Would love to get your feedback!
As some of you know I’m working on a book about how to turn any organization into a highly innovative one. Being one who likes to walk his talk, I have released a sort of an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) version of it in the form of a Slideshare deck that contains the book’s outline. Would love to get your feedback. In particular:
- Did you understand the 9 principles and the three groups they were divided into?
- Is the definition of an innovation system clear and concise?
- Anything major you’d add? Eliminate?
Brené Brown is a brilliant researcher and teacher who focuses on the topics of shame and vulnerability. Her TED talk below had a profound effect on how I perceive my role as head of innovation at HPE Software.
How do these topics relate to innovation?
Simply put, whenever an employee has the courage to pitch an innovation idea she places herself in a very vulnerable position. Innovation ideas tend to be very raw and have high levels of uncertainty associated with them. From experience I can tell you that when presented with an innovative idea for the first time you will probably experience a feeling of unease at a physical level.
It will literally make you feel uncomfortable.
You will do whatever is possible at that moment to compartmentalize the idea as something familiar. It is your tendency based on millions of years of evolution. Something uncertain is literally perceived as danger to our reptilian brain. You will start telling this person all of the reasons why the idea won’t work.
It won’t generate revenues.
It has been tried before and failed.
It requires cooperation with another business unit that will never happen.
In this attempt to bring the idea back to a digestible form that is safe we kill great ideas and we silence the brave souls who present them. This is detrimental to innovation over the long run.
How do we as leaders create an environment and culture that will nurture such ideas and not destroy them with the best of intentions?
It is essential to have a culture and processes that create a “safe” environment for employees to present their ideas at very early stages and spawn constructive conversations about those ideas.
I’d love to hear your stories about how shame and vulnerability affected innovation in your work environment. Please comment.
I know I haven’t posted in a while. The good news are that I have been focusing on new areas of innovation management and I have lots of new insights to share. In the meantime, I’d like to offer you my loyal followers a sneak peek at he next version of my book. If you’re interested just shoot me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you an early copy.
Ran Bar-Zik just posted a review of my book. Check it out.
Usually I share insights about what it takes to run innovation systematically. Recently I have been overwhelmed by emotional moments that I experienced running an innovation system for a Fortune 50 company. They involved the wonderful individuals who act as intrapreneurs and contributors to the program.
I strongly believe that in this day and age you owe it to yourself, to your loved ones and to your company to innovate. It will be good for your company but more importantly it will do great things for you. I have watched hundreds of employees get involved in innovation projects over the years and I can tell you that they all benefited in one way or another from the experience. As I run this global innovation program I often get heartwarming emails and testimonials from colleagues who tell me how going through the experience of corporate intrapreneurship changed their lives. Always for the better. So in this post I will share the 5 reasons why innovation is critical to the career of corporate citizens.
- Personal growth – Working on innovation projects is an opportunity to try, fail and improve. It fosters curiosity since you are exploring what is possible in order to achieve the incredible. It fosters grit because only the ones who persist despite the rejection and the challenges will make progress. It takes people squarely out of their comfort zone because it forces you to get out of the office and perform activities like customer interviews and business development that you wouldn’t be doing under any other circumstances. Regardless of the project’s outcome you come out on the other side a stronger, better version of yourself.
- Personal differentiation – Corporations are composed from thousands of employees. As you look for potential career paths and promotions one of the most important things you can do as described in Patty Azarello’s fantastic work “Rise!” is to be seen by senior managers. When you are pushing innovation projects forward inside a corporation you will be noticed. You will have opportunities to present to leaders. When you do, remember that as passionately as you might feel about your project and regardless of its actual outcome you are investing in your personal brand so make sure you nail it. In the program I run we had cases where even when a project was shut down, the person who was leading it got promoted because his work on the project showcased his intelligence, drive and talent to his managers.
- Connection to talented people – When you start working on something exciting and share it with others enthusiastically, you will draw talented and passionate people to work with you. The relationships that you will form with these people will become part of your internal professional network. That network can be leveraged to perform better at your day job and become very valuable to your manager. Your connections are a power multiplier to your perceived value and your effectiveness. Innovation projects are a great opportunity to form these connections with people of the highest quality.
- Variety – Variety is the spice of life. What a delight it can be to introduce variety to your work day that is good for you and great for the business. When you work on innovation projects and push them forward (usually in parallel to your day work – hopefully on company time) you add variety to your day. That fills you up with energy that dissipates into your day job at a great benefit to all parties concerned.
- Contribution to others – Innovation isn’t always about you. It can be about a colleague whom you can help with a piece of information, a contact or an observation that wouldn’t be available otherwise. Look around you. Are there colleagues of yours trying to innovate? Even if this isn’t the right time for you to lead – it is always a good time to assist others!
Happy new year!
I’m happy to share that my first book about systematic innovation is out. It is called “The 8 skills of organizational innovation” and is now available on Amazon. If you enjoy my work I highly recommend this book which describes eight skills organizations should acquire in order to setup a successful systematic innovation program.
In previous posts I wrote about the biggest mistakes that corporations make when innovating. The adverse effect of all those mistakes is the high cost of a business experiment. If we consider that corporations tend to go for grand visions and big plays and add to that the mentality of “construction equals progress” then not only is innovation risky by definition, but the cost of testing innovation hypotheses becomes exorbitant as well.
In the past I also wrote about the lack of patience corporations suffer from when considering projects that are costing a lot and not generating revenues. The higher the cost of the experiment, the shorter the runway this project will get in the absence of revenues before finding itself on the chopping block.
To the two factors above I’d like to now add two others that exacerbate the situation and make the successful graduation of an innovation business experiment within a corporate setting into practically impossible.
- Negative business events – Every company has a bad quarter or two once in a while. It can also be an external event such as the stock price dropping. What such an event does is make decision makers shift their focus to cost saving mode. Innovation business experiments that cost a lot and aren’t generating revenues will be the first ones to be cut.
- Changing management – The average tenure of a business executive in fortune 500 companies is much shorter than the 4-5 years minimum that a new business needs to take off (think of the time a successful startup takes to reach $100M in revenues). When a new executive steps in, she needs resources to implement her vision and these resources can come at the expense of the mainline business i.e. product quality and features or it can come at the expense of expensive business experiments that aren’t generating revenues and that were launched by her predecessor. Which option would most new executives choose?
This is the corporate innovation paradox and it is everywhere. How do we solve this paradox? I will offer a possible solution in my next post.
Would love your comments on this topic. Is this situation familiar to you in your organization?
In this second part I’d like to focus on innovation delivery, the phase in which we take the innovation product that we built to the market in the hopes of generating value and business success. I wrote in the past that innovation is an organizational skill. If until this point in a project it would be possible to do a good job with a relatively small number of dedicated and (innovation) skilled people, no other phase embodies this sentence more than the delivery phase.
Attributing success to revenues – Revenues are what drives business success and so it would be a reasonable expectation to generate revenues out of innovation. Fiduciary responsibility generated a world where executives are measured on a quarterly basis. Innovation comes at a cost and when looking at it through the lens of ROI which is what corporations have been conditioned to do for years, innovation is an exercise in patience. However, innovation success takes time. How long does it take a successful startup to go from 0 to $100M? 3-5 years if lucky? How many organizations have the wherewithal to wait that long? Imagine an executve who has $1M to invest and can put them on the 2nd year of an innovation project generating $500K or use this funding to invest in the franchise $300M/Y product quality related ER’s in order to increase customer retention and potentially save $20M in revenues the following year that would be lost otherwise. How many executives would choose the former? How many years in a row would they be able to sustain that decision and justify it to their management and shareholders? This is the first key to why innovation can’t thrive without skill. Decision makers must have something to reflect innovation progress in early stages which is not just revenues. This gives them the ammunition to make responsible decisions as opposed to gut-level choices and think long term while justifying the short term pain.
Flying blind – In my years spent in the corporate world I have seen dozens of innovation projects created and nurtured with the utmost care. When the delivery moment comes we would all kiss the proverbial DVD goodbye and pray for the best. We would then sit back and wait for revenues to flow. Oh, sure we would interview customers and work very hard to adjust the product to their needs but we’d be essentially flying blind. There are early indicators of success that can be measured, especially today when so many products are delivered via SaaS. Since corporations have been conditioned for years that delivery is about a new version of an existing product, this skill of measuring the early indicators of revenues for a brand new product is simply not there. Going from $0 to $100M is extremely difficult and a team needs all the help it can get. If we don’t know at which point in the pipeline we are hemorrhaging customers then our ability to succeed is severely damaged. This also exacerbates the previous problem because when we go to reviews with our managers we do a lot of hand waving and finger pointing. Just imagine the quality of conversation you could have with a system of pirate metrics in place.
Mismanaged dependencies – When a corporation formulates a strong innovation idea it usually involves some sort of unfair advantage based on its core strengths. But there lies the rub. This unfair advantage usually involves a dependency on a resource, a team or function that has been optimized for years to serve the mainline business. For example, let’s say an innovation project plans to leverage the broad customer base of an existing product and upsell to those customers. This means there’s a dependency on the existing salesforce and the assumption it will push this innovation project enthusiastically and effectively. It can also mean that the new product has a dependency on the mainline product having certain functionality added to it. Is the R&D of the mainline product on board? Can it deliver quickly enough as feedback is gathered and the innovation product has to react in much quicker cycles than the mainline product R&D is used to? Mismanaged dependencies are very well summarized in the book “Beyond the idea” which I highly recommend. Every corporate citizen has a story to tell about a mismanaged dependency.
Can you think of examples? Anything you’d like to add? Would highly appreciate your comments.