I left Accipiter that day facing a long drive home in terrible traffic. Yet I couldn’t tell you anything about the drive home. It may have been crowded, bumper to bumper, or it may have been wide open. It was one of those drives where you suddenly realize you’ve parked the car in your driveway or parking spot, without actually realizing you’re home. I was so preoccupied with the latest developments that I had driven home on autopilot, while the rest of my mind was churning over the newest twist to the puzzle. I hoped the reptilian part of my brain that had managed the driving had managed the drive home safely.
Here’s the puzzle that allowed me to drive through six lanes of freeway traffic at the height of rush hour without noticing the other drivers: how do you build an effective innovation platform without understanding the key strategic goals of the company? At this point, success was going to be as difficult as throwing darts at a dartboard in a dark room wearing a blind fold. There was some chance for success, but it was a very small chance. We needed a lot more clarity on what the management team expected from an innovation community. Simply opening up a site where customers can place their suggestions for new products or services will be less than satisfactory if ‘all those ideas’ have already been suggested internally. Or what if there was a desire for some really radical, disruptive ideas? An open suggestion model might capture some of those ideas, amongst the hundreds of mundane ideas or outright critiques of existing products or services. This project was a balloon which bulged out in every different direction just as soon as I felt I had one clear goal or target. The number of variables in this equation was simply too high. If no one wanted to provide us with clarity, I decided, then we’d impose clarity on the process. We’d establish a clear scope and boundary conditions on the community, publish those and wait for the howls of protest. If we didn’t get any, or at least none we couldn’t correct, then we’d declare that the scope. Given a specific scope and set of expectations, I felt we could be successful. Then, once the ideas were generated and considered, we’d declare victory before anyone could complain. That would give Accipiter a ‘quick win’ that we could build on.
I was mentally exhausted and morally bankrupt by the time I dragged myself into my apartment. I’d need a good stiff drink to need a good stiff drink, so I slumped on the couch and set mental distress signals to June. Not that I’d ever been good at receiving her rather overt signals about a regular dating life, or flowers, or dinner out. We’d had, so far, a rather haphazard dating scheme, developed mostly around my inability to commit and disheveled lifestyle. Some might call it selfish, I simply thought of it as idiosyncratic. The mental signals didn’t seem to pan out, so I reached out and touched June the old fashioned way, with a dial tone.
“Would you throw a drowning man a lifeline, even if that man wasn’t always the best to you?”
“Is this a philosophical question?”
“More like a cry for help from the deep end of the pool.”
“For a man who is drowning, you certainly have time for snappy patter.”
“Like a duck. Calm on the surface and paddling like hell down below.”
“Sam, you never need anything from me or anyone else. What’s up?”
“Tired, lonely and bored. I need a few rays of sunshine in my life.”
“You know how to sweet talk the girls, don’t you Sam?”
“June, you know me. I am what I am. I’d really like to see you – take you to dinner, out for drinks, whatever. My treat.”
“OK Sam. Let’s make a date.”
“No, I mean now, tonight. Are you free tonight?”
“Well, I’d planned to arrange my sock drawer, but your offer does seem just a bit more enticing. Give me half an hour?”
“Great. And thanks. I’ll stop by and pick you up.”
“How gallant. Remember, three floors down, 7a.”
“I’ve been there once or twice before.”
“Yes, but it’s been so long I thought you might have forgotten. See you soon.”
OK. Feet on floor, hat on rack. Splash water on face and comb hair. Exchange formal monkey suit and tie for something a bit more stylish and slightly more casual for dinner. Rummage through the clothes in order – on hanger, off hanger on bed, draped on chair, piled on floor. Decide that everything needs ironing, so go with the linen slacks and silk shirt.
Eyeball the familiar mug in the mirror, and decide that except for the hangdog look around the eyes, that visage could be on movie posters around town. It’s not the looks, it’s the attitude I told myself. Buck up boy. Accipiter can wait until tomorrow.
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.