Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Wanted: Innovation Leaders

Sometimes I think that many firms should place an ad in the employment pages that says: Wanted: Innovation Leaders. Must be visionary, tough, well-connected and willing to risk it all.

I was reading a post from Drew Boyd (see his Innovation in Practice blog) about academic research into what competencies are important in innovation practitioners and innovation leaders. Drew, and the academics and research he cites, are far more eloquent than I can be. However, the lack of eloquence has never slowed me from climbing up on the soapbox.

Any firm that decides to build a consistent, sustainable innovation capability needs senior executive commitment and funding. That goes without saying. But the innovation initiative needs a strong, determined leader who can demonstrate the following four skills or competencies:

  1. Vision
  2. Commitment
  3. Fearlessness
  4. Excellent communication
A person lacking in one or two of these competencies might be able to compensate with the addition of a sidekick or team mate who can bring that specific skill to the table. Let's drill into each to determine why they are important.

Vision: The innovation team leader will recruit people to his team in an uncertain climate to do some fairly risky things. She needs to be able to communicate her vision for innovation capabilities and how that aligns to the senior management team's needs and strategies.

Commitment: Sorry, part-timers need not apply. If your innovation team leader is part-time, how can she convince people to join her team and make a big commitment. They'll all have one foot in the innovation team and one foot firmly planted in their safe, comfortable existing roles. An innovation leader trying to start a challenging new process that probably runs counter to organization culture can't succeed on a part-time basis.

Fearlessness: You can't succeed when innovation trying not to fail. Too many innovation programs seek very simple, very safe ideas to generate and implement. That's not the point. We've already got Black belts and continuous improvement programs and product roadmaps. We need some risk and danger. The leader needs to be able to stick her neck out and ask some crazy questions, cannibalize existing products and overturn markets, or the end result will be more of the same.

Communication: The innovation leader will recruit full time and part time people to a completely new task, create new processes and methods and generate ideas that will hopefully threaten existing products and services. Based on that description, don't you think they need great communication skills? This means both the skills to speak to the executives as well as to inform the team and the general population.

If your team is forming, or you are considering building an innovation program, now is a good time to write the job description of the innovation leader. Part Gary Cooper, Part Dr. Phil and fully committed to success.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 4:46 AM

7 Comments:

Anonymous Venkat said...

You may like my slightly more expanded set of roles I think companies need :) the varieties of innovation experience

My one comment: I'd qualify 'vision' with 'opportunistic' -- you don't want somebody who wants to define a blue-sky vision and then grind on via waterfall planning to achieve it. You want somebody capable of doing rich private visioning, tactically revealed to the right people at the right times, and approached with agility, using windows of opportunity, co-opting existing directionally correct efforts and so forth. Somebody who isn't religious about the end state, but strongly driven by broad design principles and a set of what-ifs.

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