Lions of Innovation

Here’s an article that Dr. Jerry Newman and myself (Dale Perryman) wrote. This is a 3 part blog post. The three parts will include:

1. A Framework for Personal Innovation Leadership (Today’s Version)
2. Rules and Skills of the Jungle
3. Innovation Leadership Development

lions of innovation

Lions of Innovation

Lions of Innovation: A Framework for Personal Innovation Leadership

By Jerry L. Newman and Dale Perryman

Individual leaders are important drivers of product innovation. In the book Intrapreneuring, Gifford Pinchot describes one of the first models for personal leadership in innovation (1). Pinchot defines intrapreneurs as dreamers who do.

Individual leaders of innovation or intrapreneurs are not unlike other business leaders. Much of the leadership literature is focused on the topic of leaders as change agents. For example, John Kotter has said, “The fundamental purpose of leadership is to produce useful change, especially non-incremental change” (2). Since innovation is largely about change, change leaders and innovators face many of the same roadblocks and obstacles.

Innovation efforts often suffer not so much from the lack of new ideas, but rather from a shortage of leaders with the passion and skills to deal with the obstacles to executing successful product innovation. In fact, most organizations have a strong portfolio of ideas that need capable leadership to drive them to commercialization. Political, technical, bureaucratic and marketing impediments may block progress. Political obstacles are referred to as the corporate immune system in Intrapreneuring. These and other barriers often result in a project ‘Valley of Death’ (3).

Leaders of product innovation emanate primarily from the marketing, operations and R&D organizations. In fact, many R&D and marketing organizations look at product development as their primary focus. Yet few organizations provide a personal leadership model or development program for personnel in these roles. We have developed and successfully implemented a framework for innovation leadership development.

The Lions of Innovation (4) program is based on elements of several leadership constructs such as Intrapreneuring, the Warrior role as described by Roger von Oech and the CREATIVE R&D Culture (1, 5, 6). This combination represents a comprehensive leadership model for developing an innovation culture and a program for development of individual leaders of innovation.

A Lion of Innovation is defined as a leader who fiercely moves product innovations through corporate processes and minefields towards commercialization using passion, determination, courage and skill (4). Lions, like intrapreneurs, immerse themselves in the process of commercializing innovative concepts. Lions may or may not be the inventors or creators of the idea. As in the case of intrapreneuring, sponsors and other stakeholders are also an important part of the model. True empowerment derives from permission, skills and passion.

But what if your organization is deficient in these categories? The program addresses ways to overcome these deficiencies.

Self-selection of Lions is a critical part of the individual leadership program. The program is not meant for all members of the marketing, operations or R&D staffs – it is for those who are highly committed to innovation. The foundation of the Lions of Innovation program is based on the logical progression that an innovator goes through from mind-set to commercialization.

A successful innovator needs to cultivate an understanding of the company’s general market and business strategies but also needs to understand the strategies of individual business units. Linking technology to value creation provides a pathway for innovators to identify projects they can passionately drive and that have the potential for successful product innovation.

Once the Lion’s project is selected, he/she needs to develop a sound business case. This leader will then marshal resources and manage the complexity of keeping a project moving forward through the multiple Death Valleys that typically occur during commercialization of significant innovations in the corporate environment.