Monday, May 11, 2009

Pulp Innovation Chapter Twelve

A week or so past with no word from Accipiter. Our client at Beletine, Jay Harding, called and was happy to speak to a prospect for us.

"Sam, the work your team did has been very helpful. I think we are turning the corner and will have the opportunity to embed innovation as a core skill. We've moved from thinking of innovation as a last resort to thinking about it as a consistent tool or technique."

"Jay, I'm glad to hear that. And thanks for your willingness to speak to a prospect for us."

"No problem. Let me know when you get something set up."

"Well Jay, you'll remember what it's like to make this decision and selection. It could be a few days or a few weeks before we hear back."

"There's got to be a burning platform, no doubt. It took several weeks just to schedule a meeting with our CEO. But once the conditions were right, we were able to move quickly."

"I hope the same is true of our prospect. I'll call you as soon as I hear anything from them, and thanks again for your willingness to speak with them."

"Happy to do it Sam. Talk with you soon."

Nothing fills an innovation consultant's heart with joy than hearing from a client who is actually implementing the programs we worked on together, especially when those programs are succeeding. Jay had been a tough sell at first - more like Fred than Susan at Accipiter - but once he understood we were focused on the team's success and wanted to help Beletine become more innovative, rather than simply override the existing processes, he came on board as an enthusiastic supporter, and someone with the right connections to get things done.

I still believed that Susan Johansen had the enthusiasm, but I remained convinced that Bill Thompson was going to be the key decision maker at Accipiter. We had followed the strategy that Matt and I had defined - keeping Johansen informed about our capabilities and interest, and providing Briggs with insights into the impact that innovation could have on employee engagement and recruiting. They had both been receptive and apologetic. "I can't tell you how Bill is going to make this decision" said Johansen, telling me in that one sentence all I needed to know about how the decision would get made. "I've continued to document the need for innovation, and I know John Briggs is behind this as well."

"Where do you think Fred Phillips comes down on this innovation program?" I asked.

"Fred is a long timer and is sold out on the Seven Schema program. However, I think he recognizes the need for a more innovative culture and approach. He may support something as long as it does not distract too much from his pet programs."

"And Bill Thompson?"

"I can't say with any certainty. Bill definitely is concerned about Tyndale and our competitive position, but I don't know how he'll react. Bill is from Finance, and has worked his way up the organization managing costs and implementing programs to control spending. He likes easily defined programs that can be executed quickly, with little investment if possible."

"That's fairly contrary to a successful innovation program" I said.

"Yes" she said "do you think you can create a short term highly disruptive product or service that is relatively inexpensive to build and deploy?"

I felt the sarcasm in her voice like a knife in the belly. Fortunately I was meant to share in this insight rather than receive the blow.

"From our experience" I said "every executive wants a "quick win". What we need to do is design a program such that Bill gets a reasonably valid quick win but agrees not to stop there."

As promised I called Bill in a week, and received no answer. I wasn't surprised. Bill was going to talk to a wide range of options to assist Accipiter with an innovation program, and in my experience innovation often took a back seat to other pressing issues. I made a note to call Bill in a week or so to reconnect, and mailed Fred an article on Xytin Corporation, which had a thriving innovation program aligned with a successful Seven Schema program, hoping he'd take the bait and give me a call.

The rest of the week I was committed to another client, reviewing long term trends in several sectors of the economy to prepare a scenario planning workshop to forecast some alternative perspectives about the future of the medical device market in 5 to 7 years. We'd made some great progress and had identified a number of opportunities for investigation. Matt was leading an ideation session for a new client, and we both had to balance existing client work with the opportunities presented by Accipiter, and the work necessary to win them as a client.

As far as Accipiter was concerned, time was on my side. Bill could only research and delay so long before the CEO and the board decided to intervene. I could only hope we'd presented the best solution for his innovation needs, and that there weren't any less than scrupulous firms offering a cheap quick fix.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:20 AM

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