I was driving down Hollywood Boulevard with my arm around a great dame I’d met near the Brown Derby. Her name was Cecilia, straight off the farm from Iowa. She had plans to be an actress, just like all the other girls in this star struck town. From what I could tell, she was doing a miserable job acting like a waitress. After her shift I invited her out for a drink. Out of the garish outfit and headdress that seemed to be de rigueur for waitresses in cheap bars along the Strip, her fresh face and long legs made her stand out from the usual crowd.
Somewhere a phone was ringing incessantly. Why doesn’t June answer? The ringing was interrupting my opening patter to Cecilia. She seemed distracted by the ringing and finally said “Why don’t you answer the phone?”
“What phone” I said, motioning around the car. “I don’t have a car phone”.
The ringing continued and I started, rolling over to turn off the alarm. Finally, I came to my senses and grasped the handset.
“This had better be important” I said. Judging from the light leaking through the gap in the shade, it was still early Thursday morning.
“Mr. Marlow, I have Bill Thompson from Accipiter Industries on the phone. One moment please.”
Before I could defer to another time, I heard a rustling sound and the ending of a conversation.
“Mr. Marlow, Bill Thompson. I’m the COO here at Accipiter Industries. We have a need to become more innovative and were referred to you. I understand you spoke with my associate, Tom, yesterday. I’d like to assure you of our intent to become more innovative. I hope you’ll forgive me for calling you at home, but this is the only opening in my calendar today.”
“Yes, Mr. Thompson. Your assistant informed me yesterday that you were unavailable for another several weeks, which is why I ending up speaking to Tom. Has the innovation requirement become more important?”
“Our CEO is pressuring my team to bring more innovation into our business, and met with me again yesterday to understand what we are doing to make our organization more innovative. This is a top priority for me.”
In my time I’d dealt with more senior executives who had gotten the real time innovation religion than I cared to count. Like new converts at a tent revival meeting, their fervency usually faded as soon as the reverend left town, or someone mentioned money. I sat up in the bed.
“One question Bill” I said as I light a Camel and tried to wipe the sleep from my eyes.
“Yes, Mr. Marlow?”
“Who wins at Accipiter if innovation is successful? Who is measured on its success or failure?”
This is my favorite line. If innovation was so all fired important, certainly it would be closely measured and someone would be rewarded base on innovation success. If Bill Thompson felt innovation was urgent, was he also measured on its success?
The connection was poor and I was more focused on watching the smoke from my Camel float up to the ceiling, so I heard the mutterings and stammerings of a conversation on the other end, but I chose to ignore it. I was waiting for the definitive, which I knew wasn’t coming.
“Mr. Thompson” I said in my most sincere voice at 7:30 on a Thursday morning “As I told Tom, with all due respect, until your team decides that innovation is important enough to commit resources and those resources will be held accountable for outcomes, please don’t call me at home. I’ll be happy to work with you to build the appropriate teams with adequate compensation and to align the team to your strategic goals, but that work doesn’t come cheap.”
As Janice said, when you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose, especially sitting in your underwear, smoking a Camel talking to a completely unprepared prospect at 7:30 in the morning, interrupting a dream that had much more appeal.
This response seemed to strike a chord – to make my employment by Accipiter even more important.
“Mr. Marlow – we need a man with your skills and temperament to help us become more innovative. Can you come down to our offices today?”
“Why the sudden rush, Mr. Thompson?”
“Call me Bill. Our CEO and the executive team just had Krishna, the management consultant, in for a presentation. He impressed upon us the need for innovation. We paid over $10,000 for a two hour presentation, and now we need to get moving to build out an innovation capability.”
“Yes, he has that new book that’s so well received about innovation.”
“Have you or your team read it? Did you follow the recommendations?” I knew the probability of anyone at Accipiter reading it was slimmer than my chances for another hour or two of shut-eye this morning.
“Well, no, but his presentation was very compelling and we need to act to catch up with Tynder Enterprises.”
Ah, there’s the rub. Tynder released a range of new products and had introduced a completely new business model over the last year, leaving many of its competitors stunned with its innovation and speed. The CEO of Tynder had been on the cover of many of the major business weeklies advocating innovation as the driver of his company’s success. Accipiter would want to duplicate what Tynder had done over a period of two or three years in two or three months, setting anyone who worked for them up for failure.
“What’s the expectation for the delivery of new products from your innovation program at Accipiter?”
“Well, we’ve been tasked to get a new product to market through an innovation process in six months. It’s aggressive but we believe it is possible.”
“Really” I drawled. “Last I heard your product development process alone was nine months to a year. Do you have a good stock of ideas at hand?”
“No, but rather than deconstruct this problem now, can you meet with us today, say 10am?”
“On one condition” I said. “Only if you are in the meeting. I don’t have the time or patience to meet with associates or subordinates who can’t or won’t make critical decisions. I need to know there is commitment from the most senior levels.”
More muttering, more paper shifting. The temperature in that office was rising faster than hemlines in Paris.
“10am Mr. Marlow.”
“Call me Sam”.
I dropped the receiver back on the base and watched the morning sun etch rays on the far wall. Once again, doing the impossible with the unwilling and unprepared. Saddle up, Sancho Panza, we’re tilting at 10.
Jeffrey Phillips is VP Marketing and a lead consultant for OVO Innovation. Jeffrey has led innovation projects for Fortune 5000 firms, academic institutions and not-for=profits based on OVO Innovation’s Innovate on Purpose™ methodology. The Innovate on Purpose methodology encourages organizations to consider innovation as a sustainable, repeatable business process, rather than a discrete project.
Jeffrey is the author of “Make Us More Innovative,” a book that encompasses much of the OVO Innovation methodology, and blogs about innovation at Innovate On Purpose. He is a sought after speaker and has presented to corporations, innovation oriented conferences, and at a number of universities. In 2010 he chaired the Innovate North Carolina conference and was a keynote speaker at Queen’s University, University of the Pacific, UNC and several other colleges and conferences. Jeffrey has an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin and an undergraduate degree in engineering from the University of Virginia.