Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Be an Innovation Champion

Innovation champions tend to be one-of-a-kind in their organization. It’s therefore critical for these folks to look outside their companies for advice and mentorship. Dev Patnaik, Founder of Jump Associates, an innovation strategy firm based in San Mateo, California, offers some key lessons for managing corporate change:

  1. Avoid the Innovation Title -- Calling a new team the “innovation department” is a good way to get everyone else in your company to hate you. After all, if you’re all about innovation, what does that make the rest of us? Some of the most successful innovation groups flew under the radar by using innocuous-sounding names like Ancillary Services or Platform Development. Pick a name for your group that doesn’t induce hostility among your co-workers; you’ll need them on your side.
  1. Use the Buddy System -- The most successful innovation leaders often have a partner in crime to help get the job done. Sometimes it’s a subordinate; other times she’ll actually share the same title. These duos compensate for each other’s strengths and weaknesses. For instance, one might be a relative newcomer to the organization with outside know-how, while the other is a trusted insider.
  1. Set the Metrics in Advance -- Innovation teams often find themselves producing new business ideas that can’t possibly survive the hurdles of corporate scrutiny. That can be because companies measure success by focusing on incremental ideas. Successful innovators have been able to establish different sets of funding, testing, and performance criteria for incremental, experimental, and potentially disruptive innovations. Set these metrics up as soon as possible to ensure fair judgment of your new ideas.
  1. Aim for Quick Hits First -- Too many leaders set off to create the platform that is going to save their company, only to discover that the organization’s patience runs out long before that new venture can come to fruition. That’s because game-changing initiatives can take a few years to develop, while most new leaders have only a short window of time to prove themselves. Spend your honeymoon period on quick hits, easy ideas that demonstrate to your CEO that you know how to get things done. Then switch to bigger initiatives before those base hits start to box you in.
  1. Get Data to Back Up Your Gut -- How do you know if you have a good idea? The overwhelming majority of successful innovation leaders sum it up two words: your gut. They often rely on years of experience to be able to recognize when they’re on to the big idea. They then use quantitative measures as a way to justify their intuition to the rest of the organization. That doesn’t mean that testing isn’t an important way to get feedback and improve an idea. It’s just rarely the final go or no go.

Originally published in Business Week.

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