Susan and I worked late that evening, trying to develop a strategic document for Bill and the management team to review and approve. We needed to frame for the executive team the rationale for an innovation program and community, and we needed to ensure that the program linked into key strategic goals. In other words, we were trying to build a document for them to approve, that in all reality they should have given us to use as a foundation for the project. This wasn’t cart before the horse kind of stuff. It was pull your head out of your.. well, it would be nice for once to interact with a company that has defined its strategic goals in advance of an innovation project, rather than doing it on the fly while the innovation project is underway.
By eight or so we’d finished a rough draft that Susan could leave for Bill to review the next morning. That document wasn’t going to help us manage the next software demonstration, which was going to kick off in a little more than 12 hours, but at least the two of us felt we had a good scoping document. If Bill could review it and run it up the flagpole, we’d see whether everyone saluted or if it came back down shot full of holes. At this point, I had no good insight and either option was likely.
“I’m going to head out and get some dinner” I said. “Care to join me?”
To date, Susan had been very professional, very correct and I had little knowledge of her personal life. On her desk I’d see the usual shots of family and friends, usually taken in those partially posed settings when you “catch someone by surprise”. Everyone taken by surprise in these photos had perfect hair, perfect teeth and seemed to be smiling in a bucolic setting. Other than a few glimpses of those shots however, I knew very little about a person who might be joined hip to hip with me for the next six to eight months on an important consulting assignment.
She glanced up and tilted her head in a way that reminded me of a puppy trying to reason its situation.
“Dinner. You know, a restaurant. With food. Sustenance? If it makes you more comfortable, we’ll call it a business meeting.”
That seemed to call her back to the here and now.
“I’d like to eat, yes. I was thinking about whether or not I needed to go home first. I have a dog and he needs to get his exercise and get out, otherwise the condo will be a mess. Could we meet somewhere in 45 minutes or so?”
“Sounds good. Do you want to meet somewhere close to your place to make it easier for you?”
“That would be great. There’s a good sushi place on Johnson and Vine called Ijami. It’s one of my favorites. Do you eat sushi?”
You might think a hard boiled innovation consultant known for sleeping in his suit clothes who favors Old Granddad as a nightcap would be less than interested in raw, cold fish, what my father still habitually calls “bait”. However, Matt had adjusted my thinking years ago about sushi, and I had come to enjoy sushi and the rituals involved.
“I’ve come to enjoy it over the years. Should I meet you there at 9?”
“That’s good. That will give me time to walk Homer and freshen up.”
“I’ll see you there.”
I left her in her office and walked out. It was a nice evening, so I went to work on the convertible, putting the top down and securing a number of loose items that would fly around like confetti otherwise. I knew where Ijami was located, not too far from Accipiter’s headquarters, and a long drive from my house. I decided to drive over to Ijami and have a drink before Susan arrived. It made no sense to go home.
Ijami is set in a small, non-descript shopping center, with a neon sign out front. From the street the shopping strip looks decrepit and slightly risky, with the complete assortment of dollar stores, karate training storefronts and one church wedged into what was originally an H&R Block office. I pushed open the door to Ijami and the change was rather dramatic. Once inside, Ijami was fully Japanese, from the hostess and waitresses in kimonos to the low tables and bamboo floors. I asked for the bar and was directed to a small bar in the corner, where I ordered a bourbon on the rocks and contemplated levering myself down onto the floor to eat from the low tables. I like to think of myself as in relatively good shape. I jog and swim occasionally, and try to watch what I eat, but as I get older I notice that my flexibility is almost gone. I wake each morning with achilles so tight you could strum them. I’d need at least one bourbon, and perhaps two, to lever myself onto the tatami mats to eat.
Susan came in about ten til 9, and we were seated. With some maneuvering and a complete lack of grace, I made it under one of the small tables. She seemed to glide right in, with no problem at all.
“Thanks for meeting me” I said. “Otherwise it was a hungry man frozen dinner at home.”
She laughed. “Lean cuisine for me.”
“Homer was very anxious to leave the premises and complete his business in the yard. I feel bad for him, cooped up all day but I haven’t found a good place to leave him, and I’m not comfortable with dogsitters coming into my place.”
“What kind of dog is he?”
“A cocker spaniel. He’s the last remnant of my most recent serious relationship. You know the drill. First, get a significant other, and then test the waters by getting a dog together.”
“Hmm. Seems I’ve always failed at the first step. Never gotten as far as the dog.”
“Well, the dog wasn’t the issue. Turns out we both wanted different things. But I didn’t come to talk about that.”
“Sorry, didn’t mean to pry.”
“You didn’t. Just still a little ragged around the edges.”
“Should we talk about Accipiter instead?”
She laughed. “Talk about ragged around the edges.”
A sense of humor and she could see through all the noise around this project. Maybe this could be the start of a beautiful friendship.
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.