Friday, January 19, 2018

Why you should work with an innovation consultant

OK, here comes the pitch.  I'm an innovation consultant.  I've been working in the innovation space for over 12 years.  I have a somewhat (cough) vested interest in writing a blog post about why you should work with an innovation consultant.  Of course if you happen to select this particular consultant you'll be exceptionally successful, but there are some other perfectly acceptable consultants out there.  But I digress.

The real purpose of this blog is to answer the question:  why should I work with an innovation consultant?  There are more answers than I'll have time for in this post, but rest assured I'm always happy to discuss if you have questions.

Your team needs new tools and skills
If your team has been tasked with creating new, innovative products or services, take a few days and introduce or build new skills and tools.  Trying to innovate with the existing tools and processes will only result in incremental change at best and a really frustrating experience.  Working with consultants who can identify your team's strengths and needs and provide training and recommend appropriate tools will help you do more innovation more effectively.  History and evidence prove that you cannot do good innovation work with existing tools and methods, and probably won't be successful trying to find and implement the thinking and tools yourself.

Your team needs new ideas or perspectives
Even if you are experts at innovation tools and processes, you may be mired in groupthink.  Or your team simply has a difficult time thinking beyond its existing products and services.  Something that any consultant can bring is a vital outside perspective.  Ideally consultants bring experiences that transfer clients and industries.  They see and interpret patterns that may be unfamiliar to your team.

Your team doesn't have good insight into client needs or future states
Far too many teams don't have access to actual customers, or worse do have access but don't know how to provoke good conversations and harvest important unmet needs.  Worse, few companies do a good job of understanding the emerging expectations and needs of customers they don't serve or spotting trends that will upend their industries.  In many organizations this isn't someone's job so it doesn't get done.  Good innovation depends on understanding unmet needs and emerging trends.

Your team has insights but cannot generate ideas
You were probably expecting this one earlier.  This is where many innovation consultants get called in, and most can provide this function - helping generate more and better ideas.  But without good insights, good tools and new perspectives, even an expert idea generation team can't get good ideas if the inputs aren't good.  Yes, this is a role where innovation consultants can offer value, but you'll get more value if they are involved in the earlier activities.

You want to build skills
Some innovation consultants will also double as trainers - teaching you methods and skills.  Ideally you'll define an innovation process and link innovation tools to the process, rather than simply get educated on a number of interesting but unconnected innovation skills and tools. 

You need help finding ideas, technologies, research or products
Sometimes you've got a good handle on the customer needs but lack visibility and capability when it comes to finding the IP, research, technologies or products you need to address the need you've identified.  Some consultants do a great job with "open innovation", that is, helping you identify, find, vet and acquire good technologies, research or intellectual property.  Of course this can work in the reverse as well if you have IP or research and you'd like to find other companies to acquire them.

You'd like to rethink or refocus your corporate culture
In the end your corporate culture, how it thinks about innovation, how it compensates and rewards people, what it emphasizes and what it ignores, will dictate the vast majority of the success or failure of any innovation activity.  Innovation consultants can help you rethink vital components of your corporate culture and begin the work to shift it toward embracing more innovation.

I could go on, but I think you get the point.  I don't do my own plumbing because I'm not good at it.  Likewise with carpentry and auto repair.  While I could take a reasonable stab at those things, in the end I need each of them to look good and work well.  In the same way, you and your team can attempt to do some innovation without the tools, insights or training necessary, but you'll rarely be happy with the results. 
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 6:50 AM


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