Friday, March 20, 2015

Innovation needs Time, Talent and Temperment

I'm about to leave for a well-deserved vacation, but I wanted to leave you, gentle readers, with a parting shot to contemplate before I go.  The idea I'd like you to contemplate until my return is that we are all making innovation far too complicated, and we need to stop dressing up the activity with lots of talking points and stop working ourselves and our management into a tizzy about commitments and investments.  Of course all of these are important.  But what we should be asking, in much the same way the "lean startup" folks are asking about bare essentials and "minimum viable products", is:  what is the minimum investment it takes to make my (team, product group, line of business, company) more innovative?  I'm going to argue that it's simply three "T"s:  time, talent and temperament.

Let's address all three of these quickly, so you can go have a good think while I am resting comfortably in an exotic location.


Time is probably the most problematic of the three Ts.  As efficiency has become a watchword, many organizations have people who are filling two jobs, in meetings constantly and trying to juggle far more day to day operational tasks than they can measure.  These individuals aren't doing a good job getting their day to day responsibilities done.  How then can we imagine that we can layer on another "important" task - an innovation project or activity - when these folks can barely keep their heads above water on the tasks they are reasonably good at?  When you are overwhelmed trying to keep the day to day stuff (where your expertise lies), how can you possibly carve out time for an activity where you have little experience and few defined processes? 

This is simply a management decision.  Innovation requires time.  Time to identify interesting problems and scope them.  Time to consider emerging trends and technologies.  Time to understand unmet customer needs.  Time to do an effective job generating ideas and solutions.  Time for prototyping and validating concepts.  And of course time for the product development process.

Your management team needs to understand how much time it will take to innovate, and either free up your time by delegating responsibilities to others, or finding capable people who can do the work without putting day to day operations at risk.  You simply will not succeed if you can't find the time to innovate, and will fail if you try to balance too many simultaneous tasks.  Innovation will always draw the short straw.


Talent in this context is composed of two factors:  attracting the people who want to be a part of an innovation exercise, who have passion for creating new things, and giving them the tools or methods that they need in order to do their work well.  Most organizations strike out on both counts.

When staffing an innovation team, find the passionate people who believe change is possible, who are willing to take risks and explore new options.  People who are unwilling to change or explore will simply recreate products and services that already exist.  Far too often, the wrong people are in the job.  Further, too many organizations neglect to provide or introduce meaningful tools, methods and templates.  Even passionate people need to have guidance, and can work more effectively if they have a roadmap and a defined end goal.  Invest in defining what a successful innovation roadmap looks like, and here's a hint.  It does not start and end with idea generation.


Temperament is a broad term meant to address three constituents in an innovation activity:  the executives who asked for it, the people who are doing it and the culture that is observing it.

Executives want perfect answers now, fully documented and easily executed.  They won't get that from innovation, unless the innovation is so simple that it reflects existing products and services.  Innovation is going to be messy, uncertain and rife with opportunities and possibilities but no certainties.  The sooner we set that expectation, and the more the executive team accepts that expectation, the better your activities and outcomes will be.

We also need to consider the temperament of the culture of the organization that's observing the innovation activity.  Often an innovation activity is watched first with curiosity, then hope, then fear.  The fear is that the innovation activity will take dollars or funding from someone else's projects.  This is when the antibodies start circling, seeking to limit or kill innovation before it infects the organization and creates too much change.  You've got to focus on the temperament of the organization or innovation will wither and die like a lab experiment in a petri dish.

Finally, consider the temperament of the team.  If you've selected passionate, engaged people, all you really need to worry about is exasperation and cynicism.  If the culture or executive team won't support innovation, doesn't provide resources or won't make critical decisions in the lack of full information, exasperation and cynicism increase.  Don't let that happen, because once you lose your passionate people, you've really lost a lot of the potential to innovate.


A lot of people don't really "get" innovation.  They think of it as an event or a project, when it is really an attitude or a mindset.  It's not something you can switch on or switch off, depending on need.  It's something that people and corporations need to do consistently and constantly, need to believe in and engage in.  It takes time, talent and temperament to do this, and you'll notice all three aren't discrete factors that can be easily turned on or off, but are continuous capabilities that need to be engaged all the time.

Have a think on this and we'll reconvene shortly. 
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 6:44 AM


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