Focus on deliverables and a thick skin

Once an organization makes the decision “to be innovative”,  and actually does something about it, it can quickly end up in some dead ends/traps.

A first common trap is to mistakenly believe that innovation = ideas, usually seeded and promoted by clueless media (of all kinds..) We even have a small thriving niche market for “idea management software (see IdeaScale and Spigit as examples of good tools). The belief that it’s the idea that matters is deeply ingrained in the popular psyche all over the world, and, while good for dreaming and starting people on the innovation path, it is destructive if it becomes the only deliverable. I have said many times that that customers cannot run their business on an idea, you can not “ship” an idea, you cannot invoice for it, etc.

A second common mistake is to embrace too widely the concepts of “open innovation” (see Chesbrough for the seminal book). The unintended consequence is that many organizations have an innovation strategy defined (or rather undefined…) by the zigzagging of tens of competing partners – startups, large technology companies with extended research budgets, a myriad of consulting companies, big and small, and the occasional guru. While good innovation project management capabilities (also rare, discussion left for another post…) can lead to deliverables, most of the time the results are closer to “innovation theatre”, where the measured business benefits are difficult to find. So yes, you have deliverables, “something to show”, but who cares ?

And a third one. Assume you understand that ideas are just the beginning of the journey, that you need to align them with business strategy and immediate needs, and now start reading and thinking on your own. The trap of “analysis paralysis” is there, right in front of you… My axiom is that for every great technology company that you have carefully investigated and selected(and planned the pilot, and aligned with your company strategy, etc.) there is always another one that looks better, usually discovered after you start the pilot, or after you send your internal recommendation/proposal. Note that I do not talk about the clueless advice from your neighbor’s second cousin (“I know this great guy with a fantastic  startup company…”), but honest, maybe even Gartner/Forrester-based recommendation. So based on this axiom, and for fear of making a mistake, you analyze, and analyze… In my team, we have started with 15 mobile payments technology companies, quickly got to 100, and an exhaustive search we’ve commissioned unearthed over 500… So the potential for being told forever “Have you looked at XYZ?” is there for anyone who wants to taunt us in a year or two from now.

So what’s a poor innovation manager to do? As Nike has endlessly told us, “just do it”, start the pilot, do not spend more than several weeks analyzing, do the pilot quickly because it’s better to fail fast since you will fail anyway, in a word “deliver”.  And get used to it… you will need a thick skin for a while.