Friday, June 28, 2013

What they don't teach you on innovation courses

In a few weeks there will be the annual Innovation Summer Academy hosted by Tallinn Technical University. It will be a great event and if you have a chance then do participate!

However, there are things that are almost never taught on such courses. Skills necessary for innovation and product development (especially in big corporations) that are never mentioned in neither innovation management books nor trainings. Hereby I would like to fill in that hole a little bit. Otherwise it so often happens that people come back to work after innovation trainings full of ideas and then just get smashed by the corporate world.

So let's begin! Let's say you have an idea of a new product that your employer should launch and you want to make it happen. How should you proceed?
Before you do anything take a moment and think it over - are you sure you want to do this? It will be hard, it might take years, it most probably will fail. If you do decide to go forward (and you should - we only live once) then keep in mind to be persistent, you will be beaten down, but you have to rise up.

The first thing to do is that you need to build support for your idea. Support of your team members, friends, your manager, other stakeholders in your company. This is a process where soft approach works way better than overruling. If you go to people and say "I have an idea, what do you think of it and how would you do it?" then that works much better than the "I have an idea, we need to do that, let's go." The prior gets people thinking along, the latter makes people think why not to do it. In the latter case the idea will stay yours (with a possible first opponent), in the prior case it will be a shared idea.

OK, so let's say you gain some momentum and your team members and friends like the idea. Liking by the way does not mean that anybody would actually do anything about it, but they will help you later on....hopefully. Another crucial element of that first building support phase is that the idea itself should now be much better thanks to multiple people giving it a thought and adjusting it.

 So now it is time to step into the powerplay. Some might call this internal politics or lobbying, but it is part of every organization and depending on the managers and culture, it sometimes is worse. "Power" can be divided into three areas. These are The money (or budget), The people and The decision process. Depending on the size and type of organization some managers might possess two or even three of these powers, but in the worst case the powers are split up and you have multiple budgetary committees, decision boards and team leaders that all need convincing. The problem is that in most cases it is "all or nothing" - either you get an OK from all the powers or you cannot run the development. To make matters worse it sometimes is not even clear who really are the decision makers or the decisions are made somewhere behind closed doors. But you need to know that there is not an organization in the world where there are not internal politics. You have to go through this phase and there will always be opponents.

If you manage to build an interested team and you manage to get all the necessary decisions then it is time to start the actual work. And yes by now it might be months or years since you sat down and decided that you really want to do this. While working it is also important to note that the more people you get thinking and working along the better. Make it "our project" not "your project". One of the dangers is that if the lobbying phase left an important manager or specialist in the opposition or he was overruled you should expect some resistance. There are always people who are expecting you to fail so they can say "told you so....". But it is never too late to try to fix it and get them onboard. It sometimes works, but .... not always.

Last, but not least, the development and launch of a new service is always long and hard work. It is expensive, it is difficult and it is depressing. But you should not give up... because if it would be easy, then the competition would have done it a long time ago. :-)

So this is how you do it! Hopefully your idea was good, because all this brainstorming around the idea, internal lobbying, analyzing and decision boards have taken a huge toll on your employers resources.

In this whole process it is important that you always remain honest and open. If you go too deeply into intrigues then you will lose trust and that you can only do once. Keep in mind also that after a while you will want to develop the next idea and the friends you got while doing the first project will help you, whilst the enemies will oppose. So the best strategy is to have only friends. :-)

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