Six am on a Monday. The sky still pitch black, at least the sliver I can see from my window. The alarm is insistent, my head is pounding and there’s a dry, cottony taste in my mouth. It appears that two wrongs don’t make a right after all.
In my mind’s eye I could see Brockwell, who probably sprang out of bed at 4am each workday morning to sweat to the oldies on his elliptical machine, and was bright eyed and ready to go at the office by 5am. Even now he was sitting at his desk, planning his day, consulting his calendar, typing inspirational emails to his subordinates. Preparing for our meeting. Hale and hearty, in fighting trim. The mind reels.
Somehow I managed to take a long cold shower, which relieved my head and jumpstarted my heart. Breakfast consisted of dry toast and bitter yesterday’s coffee from the bottom of the pot. I pulled on my slacks, a clean shirt and a rumbled black jacket. At 6:45 I took one last glance around the apartment, grabbed my keys and left, headed out to a celebration or an execution. Moving down the hallway to the stairwell I thought of Sean Penn in that movie. Dead man walking. Maybe so.
I can’t say I remember the drive to Accipiter. It was cool that morning and the traffic wasn’t too bad. I actually arrived early – a first for me. By the time I got to the parking lot I had settled down, ready to plunge in or back away, promising myself that if Brockwell managed to create yet another excuse for putting off the project I was going to immerse myself in the projects that Meredith and Matt had underway and leave Accipiter to its own devices.
At 7:15 there was no one at the main reception, so I rang Susan and got her voicemail, then settled in to wait for Susan or Brockwell, or the reception team. Promptly at 7:30 Brockwell himself turned the corner, called me over and started back down the hallway. As we walked together, my stomach began to lurch again. I was expecting the worst. Susan had not come to greet me.
“I did a lot of thinking over the weekend, Sam” and I felt a cool sweat break out on my forehead. “This innovation effort isn’t easy.” Still non-committal.
“It never is, but it is usually worth the effort” I said, with a grin that started and ended at my lips. The eyes, cheeks and forehead had already surrendered. I probably looked like a death mask, but couldn’t make eye contact.
“Yes, well that’s what I wanted to talk with you about. How much effort will be involved to create an innovation team and spark some real innovation here at Accipiter? Angus and I talked over the weekend and we are both convinced that Accipiter needs innovation as a core capability. We simply can’t survive in our market without a radical increase in new products and services.”
This wasn’t the music I had expected to hear. Rather than a sweet sad melody, I was getting Happy Days are here again. But I know enough to never interrupt an executive when he or she is expounding on their own vision.
“We’ve decided to make this a strategic focus this year. Jim will ask the board to approve several new positions and we’ll find the funding for a significant investment in consulting time. We understand this is a big change and we want to do it the right way – and come out of the effort with the skills and knowledge, and cultural change – to innovate well into the future. You look a little pale. Feeling OK? Want a glass of water?”
No. I was feeling fine. In fact, never better.
Susan met us in the conference room, clearly excited but strangely subdued as well. Brockwell opened the discussion.
“I’ve told Sam about our intentions to make innovation a strategic priority this year.” He glanced at Susan, who met his eyes and nodded. “The two of you need to give me a plan by the end of the week we can take to the board, to approve any new headcount and funding. I want a three year plan. Our goal is to create within Accipiter a culture that support and expects innovation, and a team that is responsible for managing innovation across the organization.”
“Can we get time with you and other executives to define the scope of the effort, to ensure we have good estimates about the costs and investments?”
“I can give you time, and I suggest you talk with several of the business unit heads, Fred Phillips in particular. From reading your previous work for Accipiter I found that you suggest including human resources in this type of effort.”
It was a statement framed as a question, so I simply nodded.
“OK, then I’ll clear it with Marjie that you can get time on her calendar this week. Speed is of the essence. Interview the people you can, and document your assumptions if you believe information is missing. I need that project plan and estimate on my desk by end of day Friday so we can present it to the board. If you are in doubt, estimate upwards, don’t be conservative. We’ll manage the costs downward later. Any questions?”
None from my side. I was ready to get started. I knew that Susan had one.
“I’m in a strange situation. I report to Bill. Has he OK’d my involvement?”
“Actually, for the next few months you’ll report dotted line to me. We believe that this effort will need a committed head of innovation, and this is your chance to audition for the role. Do well, and it will likely be yours.” He left the alternative unsaid, but it hung there.
It would make for some uncomfortable hallway meetings I was sure, but Susan had gotten what she wanted. Now the question was – could we make Accipiter an innovation success?
By Jeffrey Phillips