Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Working with an innovation consultant part 1

I completed an initial sales call today with a prospective client. The client has some interesting challenges and opportunities and seems like they want to work with us. However, I've found myself reliving - almost like Groundhog Day - the same discussions and issues in this sales call that I find myself discussing in most innovation business development efforts. So, in the interest of saving us all time and money, here's a recommended approach to working with an innovation consultant. I've decided to break this into two parts - the "sales" process and the actual working relationship.

First, let's talk about sales.

Almost every firm I speak with will admit "we're not good at innovation" and will provide several reasons that they aren't innovative. The culture doesn't support innovation, there's not enough time and resources, there's no team associated with innovation, there's too much risk associated with innovation, the firm is doing too well to consider innovation, the firm is doing too poorly to consider innovation, etc. In the next breath they'll tell me that it is important that they demonstrate innovation within the next three or four months, generally because the CEO has decided that their business needs some of that innovation magic.

So, we will often start with the basics. What's your strategy and goal for the business over a 3 to five year period? How do you want to be positioned in the marketplace? What strategies, tactics, products and services can we improve or enable through innovation? I'm constantly surprised by the fact that most people consider innovation a strategy, rather than an enabler to the strategies and goals of the business. Usually it can take several weeks for folks to agree on what they want to "innovate" around. Then, they want to jump quickly to the "low hanging"fruit to show "quick wins". If there is "low hanging" fruit available in most organizations, it has either been 1) picked or 2) proven to be undigestible. Additionally, nothing will deflate your team more than to have other say that nothing the team did was "new" or difficult.

Another thing that constantly astonishes me is how little insight firms have about their customers. Innovation should be about creating products, services and business models that satisfy unmet, undermet or undiscovered needs. How can you innovate if you don't understand the trends in your industry and the met and unmet needs in your customer base? Go, do some research. Talk to your customers. Understand the trends that are occurring in your market. Since this is election day 2008, I have a brief note for those of you in heavily regulated industries. The Democrats are winning the house, senate and White House. What plans and initiatives have you put in place to act proactively to that and the implications that win has for your industry - for example, in the healthcare industry, which the Democrats have promised to change dramatically? Or perhaps you'd like to be in coal industry right now?

Understanding your strategy and how you can leverage innovation as an enabler to satisfy new customer needs or uncover new markets will go a long way to helping you work successfully with an innovation partner or consultant, or just on your own. Setting reasonable timeframes and not jumping to the "quick wins" will help you build a longer, sustainable innovation program. After all, you didn't get in the situation you are in overnight, and it will take at least as long to fix.

Once you have a reasonable understanding of your strategy and how innovation can be applied, have set reasonable expectations regarding timeframes and investments and have a good understanding of your markets, trends and customers, you are ready to work on innovation.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 11:32 AM


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent post! True innovation is cultural. As such, it is successful when it is being lived, not when it has to be done.

7:33 PM  

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