Raising Innovation

by Deborah Mills-Scofield

Raising InnovationHumans are one of the few mammals whose babies are not fully developed at birth.  Unlike horses, whales, etc., human babies can’t stand, walk, or forage on their own at birth.  They are totally dependent upon adult humans for constant, continual support just to live.  We are used to this, we accept it, we don’t expect anything different.

Yet, when we discuss the birth and development of innovations and companies, it’s totally different.  We expect an accelerated path from birth to adolescence to adulthood.  It doesn’t need to as long as human development, but it’s rarely warp-speed.  We know innovation and entrepreneurs need nurturing and support, but usually just pay lip service.  The similarities, and therefore lessons learned, between newborn babies and innovations/ideas are seldom applied.

Within companies, many innovations aren’t given the time or support (e.g., prototyping, experimenting, testing) to ‘prove’ their worth – they are subjected to processes (e.g., stage-gate) and reviews prematurely and are not given a chance to try to crawl let alone walk.  While vetting is critical, vetting too early can be fatal to the company as a whole longer-term.

For startups, entrepreneurs usually have to grow up (too) fast if they want to get the funding to nourish their growth.  As a mentor to startups, my role is paradoxical – to nurture and advise but also help push out of the nest.  As a partner in Glengary LLC, an early-stage VC firm, we provide the necessary support and network AND hold them accountable for milestones, without asking for meaningless data in business plans. It is always a balancing act.

So, as you are involved in innovation and with entrepreneurs, apply some of the lessons learned from raising your kids, if you have.  Provide a path providing sufficient nurture and nourishment for growth that teaches self-discipline and self-sustenance for independence.  It isn’t easy to do as parents, and it isn’t easy to do in business, but few rewards are easy.

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Deborah Mills-ScofieldDeb, founder of Mills-Scofield LLC, is an innovator, entrepreneur and non-traditional strategist with 20 years experience in industries ranging from the Internet to Manufacturing with multinationals to start ups. She is also a partner at Glengary LLC, a Venture Capital Firm.

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