With Meredith coming aboard, Matt and I decided to ensure we had documented our methods and processes, to make it easier for Meredith to come up to speed on the products and services we delivered to our clients. That meant that we had to get a lot of our concepts on paper, rather than simply carrying them around in our heads. Additionally, we agreed to train Meredith in our approach, so that she would be able to participate on projects that weren’t related to market research or ethnography, and hopefully she’d learn enough that she could take on a leadership role on our projects.
Take two dyed in the wool consultants, numerous innovation projects over the years with at least 30 different clients and try to distill that down to an organized methodology, so you can teach a new partner the “ropes”. Talk about drinking from the firehose. Matt and I debated, and wrote, and condensed, and debated some more. At the end of the week we’d developed an outline for a five day training session, which we felt would serve as a great introduction to many of the phases of an innovation project, and give Meredith a chance to understand the sweep of the work she’d be involved in.
The first day was focused on innovation and corporate strategy. This is an area that is often taken for granted, in our experience. The CEO or some “C” level executive proclaims the need for innovation, and a couple of teams scurry around creating some new item or gizmo, only to discover that the new creation doesn’t align to corporate needs or expectations. We firmly believe that successful innovation requires a good understanding of the corporate goals and directions, and we advocate thinking about innovation as an enabler to corporate strategies, rather than a strategy unto itself. There, I’ve used the word “enabler” in a sentence which either makes me a consultant or a psychotherapist. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.
The second day of training is focused around spotting opportunities. Many firms we work with have the opinion they can innovate from the “inside out” – that is, many of their customers are simply clamoring for the great new technologies that XYZ firm has dreamed up. Unless you are named after a popular fruit, that doesn’t seem to hold much water in the real world. The number of new innovations that fail is much higher than the number that succeeds, mostly because most innovators assume they know what customers want and need. Most successful innovators understand they need to examine trends, understand their competitors, and rub elbows with their customers to uncover the needs and opportunities in the marketplace. Day two was written to consolidate trend spotting and synthesis, lead users and a number of other techniques to gain customer insight. Of course Meredith could flesh out the section on Ethnography and market research.
Matt tackled day three – which was about creativity and idea generation. In our years of consulting, we’d rarely come across a well-run ideation or brainstorming process in our clients. Too often the sessions were either poorly led or led by someone with a stake in the outcome, which biased the process and the results. Additionally, many of these so-called brainstorms turned into debating societies rather than follow the best practices for brainstorming outlined by the Creative Problem Solving Institute and others over the years. So Day Three was focused on idea generation, with a heavy emphasis on managing an effective brainstorm, but with a look at a number of other idea generation techniques. Matt excelled at this, so he worked up a great program for Day three.
Day Four was my specialty. Once we’ve identified opportunities and needs (Day Two) and generated ideas to satisfy those needs (Day Three), how does a team turn a raw idea into a new product or service? In Day Four we examined the needs for a consistent innovation process and the roles and responsibilities that exist within that process. The analogy I often use is the following: suppose I need to create a purchase order to acquire materials within a large organization. Certainly I’d speak with a person in purchasing who’d have a binder with all the necessary processes. A purchasing system would support that process and ensure all of the information was correctly captured and any requirements or rules carefully followed. All of the steps would be documented and everyone involved in the purchasing process would have clearly defined roles and responsibilities. Now, apply that analogy to innovation. Does a well-defined innovation process exist? Do the people who need to be involved to flesh out ideas and evaluate them understand their roles? Who are we kidding? The only way to instill innovation as a business discipline and innovate successfully over time is to define and implement an innovation process.
The fifth day examined innovation leadership, especially focused on changing the culture of the organization and identifying traits of successful innovation leaders. Matt and I based this day on the team leads that we’d found who were successful in our clients, and used case studies to identify why some firms had been less than successful. Imagine telling your employees to be innovative – to take big risks and change the organization – but holding them accountable to the same evaluation and compensation processes that existed before the introduction of an innovation program. Of course everyone reverts to what they are evaluated and compensated on, which isn’t innovation, so little to nothing gets done. Without significant culture change, innovation is tough to do even with great idea generation, opportunity identification and an innovation process.
After a week of development, debate and self-reflection, Matt and I were pretty pleased with the results. What we had, in fact, was a curriculum not only for Meredith but one we could offer our clients as well. We both were comfortable leading groups, and had a tremendous range of innovation experiences to draw from to ensure the training wasn’t simply an academic exercise. Meredith’s acceptance was paying dividends even before she showed up for her first day of work.
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.