Nine thirty sharp the next day my phone rang.
“Marlow” I said, wiping coffee grounds from my tongue.
“We’re in” she said.
“OK. What day?”
“Next Tuesday, 9am. We’ll have an hour. Just Dowdy and Brockwell. We make our recommendations and ask for funds and resources.”
“Can you come over today? I want to get started on the presentation as quickly as possible. I’d like to have a draft to Brockwell for his comments by Friday.”
I pushed some papers off the desk blotter. Normally they’d have my full attention, since they were the project plan that Meredith developed for Cantide. We’d been asked to conduct some ethnographic research to identify new products. It was Meredith’s first project start to finish. But right now cracking the Accipiter nut was simply too compelling. Around the ring marks and smoldering ash, underneath the sticky notes and assorted flotsam and jetsam of my desktop I found my calendar. September 12, 9am. Noting booked for that day. Good. Counting back. September 7, today. Matt had scheduled a meeting with Goine Technologies to present some early idea concepts. He had asked me to attend weeks ago. Goine was a paying customer, while Accipiter was still in a sales process. Matt was going to have to go it alone.
“I’ll be there in an hour” I heard myself say, and I rung off. I trusted Matt to get the work done well, and I knew Meredith had it in her to design the work at Cantide correctly. We’d finally climbed the ladder at Accipiter. There was no going any higher. With luck we’d walk out of that office on the 12th with the funds to do the work the right way.
I gave Meredith’s plan the once over, marking up a few tasks and adding a recommendation or two and left it on her desk. I left Matt a note explaining the situation. I told June I’d be at Accipiter the rest of the day and left the office. It wasn’t clear to me anymore if I was going for the client, for the project, or for Susan. It felt as if we were both captive to the project, and to a certain extent the work was running us, rather than the other way round.
I drove to Accipiter in a fog, arriving without recalling the drive. It was only 10:15, but I felt I’d been up all day. I resolved to myself to set priorities. Marlow Innovation had my name on the badge. It employed a number of interesting and dedicated people. I was the leader, in name and in practice. I had to balance the importance of Accipiter to the firm, and to me, and I had to be willing to move on as well if Accipiter didn’t progress the way I knew it should. My feelings for Susan were confused. I wasn’t in love. Perhaps it was more of a shared circumstance, like how hostages learn to like and admire their kidnappers. Hopefully it would all come to a head today – either we’d win the work or Dowdy would tell us exactly where to stick our proposals. And then I could get on with the rest of my life.
Susan met me at the reception desk, with a wary look in her eye. I think we both were confronted with the reality that Tuesday would make, or break, whatever relationship we had. Perhaps it needed to be defined first.
“Susan, Accipiter could be an important client to Marlow Innovation” I said, “And I’m working hard to win this business. On Tuesday, Underwood can make us both very happy, or he can decide to forego innovation. Either way I reach a resolution. What happens to you if Dowdy decides against innovation?”
It hadn’t come out the way I’d wanted, but my my thinking wasn’t clear. We were on the brink of something big, but the work felt crowded by the possibility of a relationship between the two of us. What would happen if we won this project? What would happen if we lost?
By Jeffrey Phillips
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.