What kind of innovator are you?
I decided to try to place innovation and the work that people must do to succeed in metaphors I felt they could understand. With a hat tip to de Bono's Six Thinking Hats, I want to offer you the X innovation roles. X because I'm not yet sure how "many" roles there are, and how many each individual will have to play.
Today's innovation role is the Matador.
For those of you familiar with ingrained corporate cultures, we often speak of "sacred cows" that can't be impacted by new ideas. While that thinking may be coherent from the inside looking out, it completely ignores the fact that outsiders are trying to dislodge your existing products from their niches, or worse, simply create new markets or new needs that make your products uninteresting or obsolete. You MUST examine innovations that threaten the existing order, product lines and business model, if for no other reason than to know how to defend against the attackers when they decide to attack or maneuver around your products and offerings.
When taking on the sacred cows, you must move carefully, decisively and watch out for the horns. In other words, you must be a Matador. Matadors understand how to control a bull, by using the bull's energy and momentum. Bulls are usually easily enraged and charge heads down, never looking side to side. A bull's only goal is to remove the threat posed by the new idea. Bulls are dangerous. If you as the matador don't understand what the bull's likely response will be, anticipate it and react in time with it, you will be gored.
As an innovator, knowing that you'll have to generate and test ideas that may cannibalize existing products or services means that you need to plan for the likely outcomes. If you can justify why you need to examine ideas that threaten the status quo, and keep the "bulls" (ie the executives who are threatened by your investigation) aware of what you are doing, you can anticipate their reactions and even guide their thinking - to help them become more aware of potential threats in the marketplace or to create new products and services. However, you must anticipate the reaction before it happens, and have a plan before the bull is bearing down on you.
If you are doing your job well, you'll have to consider ideas that threaten the status quo. Otherwise your scope of innovation is too narrow and your firm will be blindsided by new products or services that disrupt the status quo. Educating the executive team about the rationale for innovating in established areas is much more valuable than either other outcome - waiting for an external disruption or keeping a disruptive idea that threatens the existing products and services under wraps.
Matadors seem graceful in the ring because of the appearance of danger due to the onrushing bull. Matadors work safely for the most part due to practice, but also due to anticipation and understanding of the actions and behaviors of the bulls. Innovators must understand the dangers posed by external innovations and internal culture, and decide the best paths to follow before they are confronted by the angry bull.
Next time: the futurist.