Stumble Bravely into Innovation

by Michael Graber

Stumble Bravely into InnovationI met many people who have been put in charge of their organization’s Innovation program because of their past performance record. They were product managers, engineers, database architects, IT professionals, HR specialists, or marketers by training. Suffice to say, they have proven to be capable and trustworthy in the past with a given initiative.

But now, they look anxious. Their marching orders are fuzzy, at best. They have been handed the wild card, make innovation real at this company.

Even worse, some executive may be harboring grandiose visions of transforming into Fortune magazine cover story and exponentially growing the company at a record pace. Good ambitions, yes, but they are dangerous if the whole company is not aligned with this vision and handling the change management efforts to reorient the whole organization.

Without a lot of reflection as to how a robust innovation program can change the culture and business model of a place—and how change always brings up the opposite, conservative reaction to reinforce the status quo and orthodoxies of an organization—this key, trusted resource gets handed the assignment. This moment can be seen as a blessing or a curse, depending on many factors.

They dive in. They learn. They get inspired. They think new, valuable thought for their organization. They challenge default assumptions in meetings, honing in on how actions and tactics ladder up to strategy. If there is a weak strategy, they ask for lucidity and deep sense.

They attend Innovation conferences, read case studies and many books on the variety of methods and frameworks for innovation, and they hit a crossroad.

They may surfeit the Innovation urge by holding a brainstorming meeting or setting up some type of Idea Submission platform, neither of which yield many actionable results. Or, they may begin by building out an Innovation space, which can take three-to-six months. Both of these actions are symptoms of a longing to do innovation, but a lack of clear direction, support, and authority.

Innovation is not about regurgitating old, pet ideas or about whiteboards and sticky notes. Rather, innovation is about creating new value.

To start discerning the opportunity territories where new value resides in the real first task. As with life, the truth is always right at hand. Start with the people who use your products or services. Look at negative customer reviews, complaint logs, call customers, hang out with consumers.

Next, study the category. What are the absolute seeming truths? How can they be improved in own-able ways? Does the category function the same way in every country? What are areas that can be made better to create new value and offer competitive advantage?

Map out the consumer (or customer) pain points and how the category currently meets the needs. Stumble bravely into this new role by immersing yourself into field insights first-hand, this way you’ll inspire the teams to lead to solve real problems for real people, which is the simple formula for creating new value.

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Michael GraberMichael Graber is the managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, an innovation and strategic growth firm based in Memphis, TN and the author of Going Electric. Visit www.southerngrowthstudio.com to learn more.

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