Enroll the Skeptics Early

by Michael Graber

Enroll the Skeptics EarlyAfter working on hundreds of innovation projects, one fact remains. If you cannot get executive sponsorship of the final concepts, they will never launch. We recommend a few steps to get leadership engaged in solving the problem with you as part of the process. Therefore, they will feel invested in the outcome of the innovations in the marketplace.

Set up a meeting to unpack the starting assumptions of the Innovation Project. Make sure you include time to think about unthinkable things. For example, if the company needs a new product, make sure you include time to ideate on different business models. Also, provide the context to free everyone of their current paradigm and boundaries.

We like to use a simple exercise called What Will Get Us Fired, and we encourage wild thinking. Have your team begin by thinking about all types of illicit, weird, and shadowy things they are not allowed to voice normally. Then, make their minds stretch into solutions thinking. Have them pair up, pick the wildest ones, and then flip the concepts on their head, and transform them into a concept the market would accept. Once they witness the process, they will understand that awesome breakthroughs often sit right next to ridiculous.

Then, re-write their role. Instead of setting them up to analyze the results at the end of the process in a PASS/FAIL or YES/NO dynamic, have them check in as part of a team invested in something that will enhance the company’s top line and make it brand a leader. Call them an Action Team or a Realization Team, something inherently collaborative and additive.

Check in at key points. After all of the Empathy and fieldwork is complete, give them a window into the insights. Likewise, after the Define phase is complete, connect the dots for them, let them help wordsmith the reframing of the findings so they have genuine ownership in solving the right problem.

Use their expertise. Let’s say one member is in the legal department, one is in RnD, one is in business development, and another works in regulatory affairs. After the Ideation phase is complete and consumer desirability has been validated for concepts in a series of prototype Co-Creations, then enroll them at their level of expertise by asking them to help figure out how to make these possible solutions technically feasible and market viable. We have witnessed naysayers transformed into complex problem solvers on the widest array of issues: chemistry, technology, claims work, etc.

Many members of this group are pre-amped to say “no, here is why it won’t work,” and this habitual knee-jerk response has caused billions of dollars to be left on Innovation’s cutting room floor. By getting their enrollment early, and by making them part of the process and solution, they work toward, rather than against, new products and solutions.

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Michael Graber is the cofounder and managing partner at Southern Growth Studio, a Memphis, Tennessee-based firm that specializes in growth strategy and innovation. A published poet and musician, Graber is the creative force that complements the analytical side of the house. He speaks and publishes frequently on best practices in design thinking, business strategy, and innovation and earned an MFA from the University of Memphis.

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