Monday, August 09, 2010

Why every innovation effort needs a Klinger

If you are like me, you cut your TV comedy teeth on M*A*S*H, the show about doctors in Korea.  The comedy was biting, topical and insightful, although honestly the show jumped the shark about two years before it finally, mercifully ended.

There are parallels to innovation in the M*A*S*H story - improvisation, doing a lot with very little, asking forgiveness rather than permission - but one I want to highlight today is the concept of the scrounger.  Every good military movie or TV show has a scrounger - a person who has all the contacts or the wiles to get the gear, food or necessities that others can't possibly seem to obtain.  In the M*A*S*H episodes, Radar originally and Klinger eventually took on the role of scrounger - the individual who could get almost anything, regardless of circumstances.  In these roles they were merely reflecting roles in earlier military movies played by actors such as James Garner in The Great Escape.  These roles in the military make sense because there's always another form to complete, another bureaucracy to overcome, to get the materials you need to succeed.  And a scrounger is good at both working within the system, and knowing how and when to work around the system if necessary.

These skills are often vital in an innovation effort.  While every organization wants more innovative ideas, few actively staff up to generate ideas effectively, and very few if any ever provide enough resources to investigate, evaluate and develop ideas as new products or services.  This means that those who have insight or passion around the ideas need to become scroungers, or associate with people who are good scroungers.  This isn't just my observation - you can read the post here from a Harvard professor talking about the need for resource scroungers.

If we agree that scroungers are necessary, what do we need them to do?

  1. Work effectively within the system to accelerate funding, resources or materials that are available but not used
  2. Work effectively outside the system to find the resources we need to develop ideas
  3. Reduce the amount of time the idea generators have to hunt for resources, and accelerate the use and availability of resources
Innovators have insights that can lead to great new products and services, but may not be part of the "system" that understands how to get things done within a large organization.  Since there is often resistance to anything new or different, or the operating assumption that the resource pie is fixed and therefore any assistance offered comes out of "my" slice, scroungers are a necessary part of any innovation team.  Merely generating new ideas is difficult enough - asking the same people to find the resources to develop the ideas as were generating the ideas is almost impossible.

Scroungers are essential to a good innovation effort, however, you don't have to dress like Klinger in order to fill the role.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 3:17 PM


Anonymous Research Term Papers said...

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4:32 AM  
Blogger Matt said...

Scavenging? That's OK cos those resources aren't being used. But sometimes scrounging is actually stealing (those pesky middle managers would go ballistic if they found out). Do you think stealing resources is good for innovation?

4:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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8:32 PM  

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