We’d worked for four days, examining every angle, talking to every influencer and building what we hoped would be a bullet proof case for the innovation efforts we felt were best for Accipiter.
Sitting in Dowdy’s office, waiting for Underwood to finish his meeting, I felt for a moment like a man on trial, waiting for the jury to come in and read out my sentence. I was entirely too invested in the success or failure of Accipiter, a prospect that had yet to pay me a dime of revenue after six months of business development. I had an uncertain and awkward relationship, both personal and business, with the project manager and had been so consumed with Accipiter that the rest of my business had been pushed off or ignored. Thankfully Matt was capable and Meredith had come up to speed more quickly than we’d anticipated. If I took a hard, objective look at the meeting I could see that if Dowdy didn’t want to invest in an innovation effort and shot us down, I’d have plenty of other opportunities and would quickly recover professionally. It wasn’t clear to me yet why I had turned an ordinary sales effort into the hunt for the white whale, but there it was, and here I am, sitting impatiently like a kid on his first date, waiting for the new girlfriend to come down the stairs while I passed the time with her father.
Susan, on the other hand, seemed very optimistic. I think she had some inside information that had led her to believe that this meeting was a formality. She seemed to think we were going to get the funds, and perhaps a real slap on the back as well. Who knew? Who can read the corporate tea leaves?
We were well prepared. We had a slide deck, examples of work Marlow had done for other firms, examples of innovative new products from Accipiter’s competitors. All of this would be compelling, but only if Dowdy felt the urgency and was willing to place a lot of emphasis, and a lot of his time, on innovation. And on that score, I had done my own homework. Dowdy was a company man, having worked for Accipiter for almost his entire career, joining out of graduate school and working his way up through the financial organization. Not a promising track record for an innovator. Brockwell had assured us that while the numbers meant a great deal to Dowdy, he was interested in placing his own stamp on the company and felt it had to change to be successful. We’d know in a few minutes.
The door opened and a number of Accipiter executives exited the conference room adjacent to Dowdy’s office. I’d been in and out of Accipiter’s offices so frequently that I knew many of them, at least in passing, and several nodded in my direction and spoke to Susan. Brockwell walked over with Dowdy and introduced me.
“Sam, this is Angus Dowdy our CEO. Angus, Sam Marlow of Marlow Innovation. He’s been a key contributor to the work we’ve done so far, and will be working with us if you give the go-ahead.”
I’d seen Dowdy’s picture on the annual report, and he did not fail to impress. Every CEO looks like a television evangelist, not a hair out of place and crisp shirts with dark suits. Dowdy was medium height, salt and pepper hair cut trim and carried himself like an athlete. One could easily imagine him walking off the golf course or the tennis courts. Like all men who are leaders of large organizations, Dowdy exuded charisma. I felt better about myself and stood straighter in his presence, basking in the warm glow of his visage.
“Sam, good to meet you. I’ve heard a lot about your work with our company, and I know it’s been quite a while since you first started talking with us. I’m interested in changing the dynamic at Accipiter and encouraging much more innovative thinking and new product development. I’m interested to hear what you and Susan have to say.”
Interested, but not yet committed I thought. It was better than a sharp stick in the eye, certainly.
We made our way into the conference room. Susan and I set up our presentation while Brockwell and Dowdy took their seats. Susan made introductions and gave a brief overview of the proposal we’d developed, and then we settled in to present our thinking.
We had decided to recommend the whole kahuna – a centralized innovation team to facilitate innovation throughout Accipiter, to develop an innovation process and methodology and to act as a coach or facilitator for teams throughout Accipiter doing innovation. The central team would also take on trend spotting and scenario planning and would generate ideas for “white space” or “blue ocean” concepts, while the product lines retained responsibility for incremental and product innovation. We identified how the team would work, staffing requirements and investments for a three year period. It was a well thought out, well designed program but was reasonably expensive and definitely different from anything Accipiter had done before.
“This is a larger effort than I had anticipated” Dowdy said once we were done. We’d intentionally asked for everything, assuming we could get some, if not most of what we thought was important. Ultimately for us we wanted 3 full time people in the innovation team and perhaps $500K to $1M dollars for innovation efforts by the team.
“When we spoke with George we felt the best course was to show you a true innovation program and what it would take to build and support such a program. This isn’t a short term solution or a “toe in the water”. What we’ve shown you, and what we think is the best chance for success, is a full immersion.” Susan was hitting her stride. I think she was fully committed to an innovation program or finding a new company to work for.
“I didn’t say I was opposed – just surprised.” I think Dowdy caught Susan’s passion and conviction. “We need something like this, there’s no doubt. George, what are your thoughts?”
That was a good sign to me. Brockwell was a supporter and felt the innovation program was a good way to drive new revenue.
“I brought these folks to you because they convinced me that innovation was necessary to do what we need to do to change Accipiter. I’m on board for the people investment. We’ll need to do some work to find the funds. But what Sam and Susan have also told us is that this program needs your investment as well. Jim, can you spend the time and the energy to build some momentum for this program?”
How much did he really want it, and what was he willing to do to make it successful?
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.