Tuesday, October 13, 2015

You need an experienced innovation guide

One of my favorite sort of snarky comments almost always arises when we are asked about our consulting fees and rates.  We pride ourselves on delivering great value for the price, and frankly we aren't necessarily cheap.  But then again, as the saying goes, very few people open up the Yellow Pages (showing my age here) and search for "Cheap Brain surgeon".  No, when it comes to important medical procedures, most people are looking for who has the best skills and experience, not who has the lowest prices.

But this isn't a post about innovation consulting pricing, rather it's a post about why you need innovation expertise to "do" innovation effectively.  And no, I'm not necessarily making a claim that you have to have innovation consultants helping you in order to succeed.  But what you do need is an experienced innovation guide.

A fishing guide as an analogy for innovation consultant
To place this in a context, let me use an analogy.  This summer I took my son (16) and my father (78) to Alaska for the salmon run.  This is a great trip - I'd highly recommend it.  We've done it three times together.  I'll post some photos at the bottom of this article.  But I digress.  Even though we've gone Salmon fishing three times, even though we've been in the Kenai river several times, even though we've been successful several times, we hire a guide.  Why?  Because the guide knows the best locations, how the salmon are running, where to place anglers for the greatest chance of success.  Would we have had some success on our own, without the guide?  Possibly, but we are familiar with fishing for trout, which avoid people and are very cautious about their food.  Trout fishing requires patience, camouflage and excellent bait placement.  Salmon fishing, especially during the run, requires none of these things.  Salmon are swimming upstream to spawn.  They are fighting the current and many aren't even interested in your bait or flies.  They often swim within a couple of feet of the anglers trying to catch them.  For salmon fishing, you need to be in the place where the salmon are swimming, and placing your line where they will strike, and you need to hold your rod sideways when you set the hook, instead of tugging it straight upwards the way you'd do for other fish.  It's the guide's job to help you be successful.  And because of the guide, we caught our limit each day.

Like a salmon guide, an experienced innovator knows the lay of the land.  He or she has deep experience with the tools, and can show you how to use the tools to best advantage.  He or she knows when to push in and when to hold back.  He or she will encourage the team to be more diverse and creative, to be more divergent than they would be on their own.  The same tools and techniques are available to "innovation" teams who don't use guides or experienced innovators as partners, but they often simply skim the surface, touching briefly on the tools but quickly falling back on familiar pathways, methods and decisions.

What an experienced guide offers
The difference between working with an experienced innovator, and working without one is very similar to our fishing expedition to Alaska.  The first time we went to Alaska we relied on our own rods and lures, our own experience of fishing for trout.  We managed to catch one or two fish while other, more experienced Salmon fishermen were catching them in abundance.  The next day we hired a guide, who provided different tools and introduced different methods.  He placed us in what for us were uncomfortable positions, using unusual or different casting methods.  But without that subtle push, we wouldn't have been fishing in the best spots.  We were relying on our understanding, which was right in some circumstances but no right in this one.  Similarly, innovation teams are far too prone to falling back on comfortable, existing processes, methods and tools, not wanting to stray too far from their relatively risk adverse cultures and decision making.  Without someone there to guide, correct, push and introduce new tools and new ways of thinking, innovation projects are an exercise in futility and frustration, because the prize is out of reach of the existing tools and thinking.

Do you need an innovation consultant in order to achieve innovation success?  Possibly, but the answer isn't definitive.  Innovation consultants have the experience to convey that our salmon fishing guides offered us.  They can give you the right tools, place you in the right spots, push you into uncomfortable setting and situations.  You could also receive a lot of that coaching from internal resources if they have the credibility and experience.  But regardless of where you get the coaching, the subtle push, the introduction of new tools and the discipline to stick with the uncomfortable and unusual, you need it.  Inertia, risk factors, cultural barriers and time constraints will all work to revert the innovation team to safe, known methods and tools that won't produce new, creative solutions.

You won't catch many salmon on the salmon run if you fish for them using the tools and techniques that are applicable for trout in the Blue Ridge.  They are simply different fish with different expectations, and they require different baits and different fishing techniques.  In the same way, you cannot hope to innovate with a team that isn't experienced unless you have an experienced innovation guide.  The inexperienced team will revert to known practices at the first hint of trouble or the first real barrier, and the result of the project will be a "me-too" outcome.

Going it alone
Many of our potential clients decide that they want to "go it alone".  They send people to innovation training or have them explore some innovation tools and techniques on their own.  After all, everyone knows how to brainstorm ideas, don't they?  We believe the capability and nascent skill for innovation rests in many of us, but it's often been beaten down and locked away, not easy to access or reclaim.  Asking an already overworked team to innovate while they also effectively conduct their regular day jobs is common, but also almost impossible for them to do both equally well.  And when push comes to shove, they'll ensure that their day job is done well, leaving innovation to suffer.  And that's true even when there is an experienced innovation guide.

Do you want an innovation guide that can provide the insight and who has the experience to make your innovation team more successful?  We at OVO do that for a living, and I hope we are as good at it as our guide in Alaska was when he helped us catch our limits.  Contact us if you have questions or want to learn more about innovation consulting or the coaching and guidance we can offer.

Fishing Photos

If you are interested in some of our fishing photos, see my Pinterest Page
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 8:05 AM


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