Wednesday, September 16, 2015

what is your innovation legacy?

As someone who styles themselves as an innovation consultant, I'm constantly asked about the difference we've made in the corporations where OVO has worked.  Recently, in a meeting with potential clients, I was asked about past experiences.  I classify them in three categories:  unabashed successes, short term successes and utter flameouts.  Of course, as a good consultant I took credit for the first two and divorced myself from any involvement in the third!

If you are interested in what made the differences, read the paragraph at the end of this post.  Because this post isn't really about me, or OVO or our successes.  It's about how you.  Specifically, how you should be evaluated for your next role, regardless of the position or level or authority.  You see, innovation is no longer a nice to have, or an occasional experiment or a "flavor of the month".  As fast as things are changing, as quickly as industry barriers are falling, as fast as new entrants can gain access to your markets, you have no choice but to innovate.  Soon, and very soon, you won't be asked about your day to day expertise or experience.  You'll be asked about your innovation capability, and what you can point to to demonstrate that you can innovate.  In other words, you'll need to create a viable innovation legacy.

We've got some questions for you

In your next job interview, your next chance for promotion, you are likely to be asked not only about balancing budgets, increasing sales or cutting costs, but also about your ability to innovate or to lead others to innovate.  Those questions will include some or all of these:

Did you:
  • Introduce innovation tools and methods
  • Train your employees on innovation tools and processes
  • Implement innovation best practices
  • Sponsor innovation projects
  • Identify needs and convert the needs into product designs
  • Commercialize a new product your team identified
  • Commercialize a new product that a consultant recommended
  • Partner with leading technologists to commercialize IP you purchased
  • Seek to gain innovation skills or training for yourself
Or, worse, will you simply state that innovation "wasn't your job" or " your management didn't encourage it" so you didn't feel it was important?

How valid will that argument be?  Leaders, or people who style themselves as leaders, find ways to get important things done, either by taking risks or convincing others of their vision.  If you are seeking a leadership role and can't point to successful innovation, then you probably aren't much of a leader.  If you aren't vying for a leadership position, then you may be asked about your personal creativity and innovation skills. What have you done to improve your skills, learn new innovation techniques?  If you aren't actively preparing for your own future, how can you be trusted with the development of another company's future?

What will happen in your next job interview, your next chance for promotion, when the hiring manager or talent management consultant asks you the fatal question:  "describe your experiences working in or leading innovation"?  Will you have a legacy to point to?

Top down or bottom up

I can hear you now, yes, you with the steam coming out of your ears.  There are powers that are simply too strong to overcome, cultures too resistant to change, that you simply cannot overcome.  It's far easier to simply get in line than to demand new skills or attempt overt innovation.  After all there's no time, no resources and no direction.  We simply all salute and go back to our day jobs, all the while grumbling that no one ever lets us do innovation.

This attitude assumes that innovation is specifically a top-down enterprise, but as we all know corporate change and innovation can be spawned at any level in the organization by people with vision and passion.  If that assertion is true, what's holding you back?  The future is clear - people who are connectors, who have creativity and passion for new ideas, who experiment, explore and discover new needs and new ideas will be in demand.  The folks who have these characteristics and understand how to put them to good use will be highly valuable.  This isn't some mystic prognostication from the corner psychic - this is straightforward insight based on real economic and business trends.  In the future, you'll be innovative, or you'll be toast.  What innovation legacy are you creating, and what can you demonstrate that proves your innovation bona fides?  If your answer right now is:  not much, get cracking.  It will matter sooner than you think.

What you can do depends to some extent on your position, your role and your industry.  At a minimum, ask to get all the training you can get and focus that training on creativity and innovation.  Implement the skills you learn even on day to day tasks.  Be known as the "innovation" guy or gal.  Establish yourself as an innovator.  Identify others within your organization, or better yet outside of your organization who share the same passion or zeal for innovation.  Build your legacy right where you are.  Volunteer for any interesting, innovative or creative assignments.  Propose new projects based on innovation themes or concepts.  As the man said, do something, don't just stand there!

Successes, short terms success and flameouts

If you've read this far, then here's the answer to what I consider an outright success, a short term success and a flameout.

To us at OVO, outright successes are clients who embed innovation in their everyday practices and processes, who train people to become better innovators and who conduct innovation long after we are gone.  They have adopted the knowledge and skills and are capable to do it for themselves.  They are successful not because OVO consultants are geniuses (in truth they are) but because the client personnel and their management had a deep desire to become more innovative and were willing to invest the time and energy to gain the skills.

Short term successes are those clients who have asked us to help them with one specific project - not to transfer knowledge but to simply create new ideas for one specific need.  We never consider this a total success, because we know that most of those clients do not have the skills to repeat the activity successfully, but some clients only want innovation as a project, rather than as a capability.

Flameouts happen, and we've experienced them, when innovation is a box checking exercise that was dictated by a senior executive who needed to demonstrate to someone that they were "doing" innovation.  Everyone understands that the innovation activity is for show, and they go through the motions until the budget runs out.  And yes, we've had the unfortunate experience to be part of these kinds of projects as well.  And we've gotten a lot better at sniffing them out so we can avoid them if possible.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 6:08 AM


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