As should be evident by now, I’m not a morning person. My sleep patterns and rhythms mirror vampires in this regard – we both abhor the rising sun. This morning, however, was going to require me to be on my feet, awake and alert very early, to recap the work Susan and I had completed last night and present it to Bill and his colleagues before the next software demo. If we could frame the innovation community more effectively, we could ask more relevant and insightful questions and understand how the software might best work for Accipiter and achieve its goals.
So that morning, the sun peeked over the eastern horizon and slanted through the shutters like a laser beam, and bathed me in strange orange-yellow light. As the sun poked through I raised my fourth cup of terrible, lukewarm, bottom of the pot coffee, hopefully left over from yesterday. I reviewed the writeup from our discussions and tried to encapsulate it in a format that the management team could quickly absorb and understand. Since Charles Schultz was no longer with us, that meant I’d need the oldest presentation crutch in the business world – a PowerPoint presentation. There’s simply no better way to present three points on a slide, six slides in a presentation than PowerPoint, and it has the added benefit of being the linga franca of the executive suite. So there I was, bright and way too early, putting the finishing touches on a 44 point font to complete the presentation. If all went well we could present our thinking to the steering team at 8am and kick off a demonstration at 8:30. By 9am or so my brain would start working, just in time for the end of the demonstration.
My phone rang, which was strange, since anyone who knew me well enough to call me knew I was never up this early, and even if I was, I wasn’t in the office.
“Hello Susan” I said into the phone.
“How did you..”
“How did I know it was you? No one else would be calling me this early. No one I usually work with would believe I was in the office before 9.”
“OK. Quickly, two things. First, I wanted to thank you for dinner last night. I enjoyed a chance to get out and talk about Accipiter and innovation away from the office. I hope that you’ll understand our conversation is confidential. I wouldn’t want everything I said last night repeated in the office.”
“No problems. Your secrets are safe with me.”
“OK. Second, how’s the presentation shaping up?”
“Just finished. Hold on and I’ll send it over to you.”
I emailed the presentation while we held the phone.
“OK, got it. Any significant issues or points from your perspective?”
“I think I captured everything we discussed last night. I think you should present this – I think it would be better received coming from an Accipiter employee.”
“Hmm. Could go either way. They might like this very much, or feel like we are stepping on their toes, defining strategy. I’ll present it, but I might make a few changes.”
“Fine. Have at it. I’ll see you there at 7:30.”
“Talk to you.”
I felt almost human after the short drive to Accipiter. It turns out that before 7am the highways have much less traffic, and the cool morning air flowed nicely over the convertible. At one point I felt my arm dangling out the window. The corners of my mouth ticked up in unusual ways, almost as if I was smiling. One could almost get used to this early morning thing.
Another benefit to early arrival – the choice of parking spots right out front. I picked one that I knew would be shaded later as the sun got hot, and walked up to the front doors. This early, there was no one at the reception desk, and I’d need to go in with Susan or another Accipiter employee. She came out through the lobby a few minutes later, waving at me with a stack of papers in her hand.
“Sam, I think we’re ready. I’ve made a couple of changes to your presentation and I think we can get Bill and the steering team to buy in to our vision for the innovation community. We might just get the kind of vision document we need to scope the work, and help shape the software demonstrations to be more valuable for us. Come on, Bill and the team should be ready for us.”
When we got to the conference room, Bill, another executive I’d met but couldn’t remember, and Frank were there. Bill made apologies for two other executives – they had been called into another meeting and could not participate in the discussion or demo this morning. I waited for the other shoe to drop.
“Since we don’t have a quorum, I think it will make sense to hold off a couple of days on your vision document. We should still take time to see the software demo since we are here and it is scheduled, though.” I think this is called throwing water to a drowning man.
Susan looked visibly deflated. I wasn’t really surprised. I’ve seen the management two-step done before, and climbed enough mountains to know a false peak when I encounter one. This is just another hurdle to climb, and losing momentum or faith now wasn’t practical.
“Bill” I said “can we have your assistant schedule a meeting with all the necessary team members at the first opportunity, so we can finalize the vision document?”
“Sure” he said “Carol can take care of scheduling that meeting and we can press ahead with the demonstrations.” He knew, and I knew he knew, how valuable that vision document would be to our discussions with the software vendors and for the success of the team. But there was nothing to be done for it now.
We were doomed to another dog and pony show from another software vendor, since we didn’t have any prioritized needs or documented workflow. All we could do was watch a litany of features as another software jockey dazzled us with the entirety of his software application.
I looked at Susan, who looked a bit defeated and said, softly, under my breath “We’ll get there.”
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.