Hunters and Farmers
So, why am I telling you about the structure of sales teams on an innovation blog? Well, I believe there's a corollary to innovation in the sales team mixture as described above. In most firms, there is a preponderance of people and effort expended on making the current organization run. Just about every process and every person is focused on near-term results and keeping the existing model "whole". In other words, the vast majority of the people in any organization are focused on existing product and service management. They relate closely to the account managers in a sales organization, who seek to carefully grow existing opportunities. The place where the analogy breaks down is in finding a corresponding match for the "hunters" in the sales force in the rest of the organization.
In most firms, few people are concerned about bagging the next elephant when it comes to creating a really innovative new product or service. Sure, there are a few people tucked away in some corporate strategy team who ponder the long term future, but at a product or service level the vast majority of people are responsible for ensuring we don't mess up what exists today. Even the "new product development" people in most organizations are simply forecasting the incremental model changes and product roadmaps, so they aren't really big game hunters.
If a balance in the sales force between hunters and farmers is appropriate, and both are very necessary, isn't there also a need for hunters and farmers when it comes to product or service development and management? The vast majority of people I interact with from an innovation perspective are very comfortable with growing existing opportunities or perhaps considering the next incremental innovation, yet virtually no one is out on the tundra, the veldt, the dark forest (insert your own "heart of darkness" metaphor here) where the rules are a little less defined, the stakes are higher and the risk is greater.
Shouldn't every product line or service area have at least one hunter - someone who is actively tasked with identifying the next big opportunity and who does not have day to day operational responsibility? Who within your organization is actively considering the products and services that should be delivered in 3 to 5 years, and what impact those products and services will have on the market? Can that person or team work outside the existing thought processes, culture and bureaucracy to envision something completely new and different?
Where are the hunters in a product or service development in your organization? What are they hunting, and what weapons are they using? Have you considered the appropriate mix of "farmers" - those who carefully grow the existing products and services and "hunters" - those who identify and bag the next big opportunities? Certainly the model is heavily weighted to farmers, but does your model leave room for the hunters?