Lions of Innovation: Rules of the Jungle

Innovation:  Rules of the Jungle

Innovation: Rules of the Jungle

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

1. A Framework for Personal Innovation Leadership

2. Rules and Skills of the Jungle (This blog post)

3. Innovation Leadership Development

Rules (and Skills) of the Jungle (The second in a 3 part series)

The underlying principles of the Lions of Innovation program are listed below.

Customer Focused
Understands and takes actions to meet customer needs

Risk Tolerant
Willing to make and admit mistakes

Acts like a business owner

Aligned with Strategy
Acts consistently with organization’s direction

Technology and Scientific Excellence
Maintains & enhances technical skills

Creates the future

Virtual Organization
Maintains boundaryless partnerships

Excellence in Product Management
Effectively uses implementation processes

The program curriculum provides innovators with a detailed review of the principles behind the concept as well as the specific knowledge and skills needed to effectively use the principles. The program proceeds through the principles in a stepwise fashion offering interactive discussion of real-life examples and tools for improving skills related to the principles.

Although the CREATIVE model has been successfully applied to develop high performance cultures within an R&D organization (6), the CREATIVE principles should also apply throughout the corporate enterprise to anyone involved in innovation leadership. It’s worth the effort to introduce the CREATIVE model to all participants during the Lion development program.

To identify ideas that have the potential for true product innovation, Lions of Innovation need to understand the corporate business strategies and financial models. They also need to know the Customers and target market(s). To build a business case they need to know how to estimate critical numbers (based on specific assumptions) and understand the tools used to generate new product financial models.

While risk is an important part of the model, it is important to select projects that have a high probability of success. Lions should select projects that:

• They feel Passionate about
• Customer will value
• Fit the mission and business needs of the corporation
• Are based on differentiated and sustainable technologies

Once Lions have chosen a project, they need to be able to sell the idea to others. Tools such as those in Made to Stick or the Art of Woo help these individuals understand methods of conveying their ideas in memorable ways (7). These techniques help Lions learn how to sell their innovations to appropriate stakeholders. No matter what business function each Lion belongs to, he/she should be able to translate technical advantages into potential customer advantage. When selling an idea, presenting a prototype, picture or drawing can make it more concrete for the audience. Furthermore, total immersion in a subject can give a Lion credibility (one of the Made to Stick principles), which is also important when gathering support for an idea. Presenting data that support the technical, marketing or manufacturing feasibility also builds credibility. Finally, gathering customer feedback is one of the best but most neglected ways to gain concrete support for an idea.

Lions use selling skills and other influence skills to find the best supporters and sponsors for their projects. Thus, the skill of networking is an important art for Lions. For some R&D personnel, networking does not come naturally and is not a highly valued skill. Lions often have talent within their own corporate networks. Leveraging internal resources can be easier than purchasing support from external sources. There is also a proprietary advantage in using these bounded networks for sharing information. Many potential internal supporters are inclined to lend their expertise, especially if they can be convinced of the value of the innovation. Lions can also trade their services for the internal support they need to make progress on their projects.

Sponsors can influence others at higher levels in the company. In fact, influencing upward is one of the major roles of a sponsor. Lions should select sponsors who have the ability to influence critical stakeholders.

Intrapreneurs and Lions of Innovation should be willing to do whatever it takes to keep ideas moving towards commercialization. In order to be this tenacious, the would-be Lion must be willing to step out of his/her normal functional duties. Even though the organization’s immune system may try to squelch initiative, telling Lions, “That’s not your job,” a ‘technical’ Lion might collect customer or market data, for example. Lions can also build relationships with representatives of other functions in order to influence supporters to complete activities that move the project along, or to acquire the tools and permission to complete the tasks independently.

While empowerment is important in building commitment, Lions need to understand the concept of ‘respecting the waterline.’ Keeping sponsors and bosses aware of project status and potentially risky actions is an essential part of this concept. Passionate individuals often need guidance from sponsors to assure that these actions do not go out of bounds. While some risk is always an element, successful implementation of innovation generally requires boundaries as well.

Since the process of commercializing new products is complex, a working knowledge of systems thinking is a definite advantage. It can help a Lion to navigate the internal corporate processes and their political and organizational minefields. The Lion will also need to apply contingency planning skills to anticipate problems and potential failures.

Obstacles can often be overcome with hard data, which many idea champions don’t have available. It is the Lion who must anticipate obstacles and be prepared to generate data. He or she uses this data to make modifications to the idea. Lions must have a flexible vision that allows them to deal with the unexpected. While others may look at unexpected results as a failure, the Lion bounces back and revises the idea or goes underground for a period. Knowing when to go underground is an important part of dealing with obstacles. Changes in the project, company strategy or leadership may necessitate letting a project lie dormant. The wise Lion knows when to do this either from his own intuition or by following the advice of mentors or sponsors.

An important part of being a Lion of Innovation is anticipating and dealing with failures. It is extremely important to have a resilient approach to handling setbacks. Highly proficient Lions take the optimistic attitude – they make opportunities out of obstacles. Martin Seligman in his book Learned Optimism describes optimism as being how a person defines the causes of the good things and the bad things that happen to him (8). Good things are defined by the optimist as permanent, pervasive and personal. Bad things are defined by causes that are temporary, specific and changeable. “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” Optimism is not denial, however. Optimists can fully acknowledge reality and be willing to do whatever it takes to create the desired future .

Communication is important in handling unexpected results. If contingency plans are not implemented, the champion can be perceived as having a “deer in the headlights look” and the project will be in deep jeopardy with supporters. Good crisis management principles apply: get out in front of the issue; quickly communicate problems in a positive manner; and discuss options. These responses can overcome potential negative backlash. By anticipating potential difficulties, the Lion can turn lemons into lemonade.

Skilled Lions can also drive early cross-functional project leadership. This is a major advantage for innovation projects, but is difficult to achieve because there’s usually a lack of formal structure at the beginning of these projects.

Finally, timing is everything when it comes to innovation, so use it wisely. Sometimes it is important to keep ideas quiet. Conversely, sometimes the Lion needs to seize the opportunity to bring an idea to light. It’s important to be prepared for that time with the right data to support the idea.

About Dale Perryman

Conduct workshops and seminars on leadership, management, and employee development. Founder of Center for Organizational Learning. Co-founder and creator of MyMeetingPro, a suite of apps for iPhone and iPad that create simply effective meetings. Specialties include leading change, meeting facilitation, developing R&D leadership, merger integration, and social media marketing. Enjoy playing poker and stock investing in spare time.