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The phone rang in my office a few days after our ethnography presentation. I was anticipating the call but I let Lois take it, so as not to seem too eager. I was certain that the outcome would be positive. Really, it was just a matter of how positive, and what that translated to in dollars and resources for the innovation team at Accipiter going forward.
Lois buzzed me. “Susan Johansen on line one.”
“Could you tell her to hold for a moment while I finish up this item?”
The item at the moment was a Macanudo, hand-wrapped and lovingly rolled for my smoking pleasure. With Meredith as the latest addition to the office, I had had to declare a specific smoking section in the office, mostly within five feet of my location at any point in time. Matt and Meredith had overruled that, but I could occasionally sneak in a smoke when they were on a client assignment and I had the office to myself. Of course that meant sitting by the window and ejecting as much of the smoke as possible out the window, but some benefits are worth the cost.
I pressed the button.
“Hello Susan. What’s the good word?”
“Hello Sam. Got me on speakerphone? You know I hate that.”
“Sorry, but I’ve got my reasons.”
“Would those reasons include a lit cigar?”
You know you’ve been working with a client too long when they know the unwritten rules in your office.
A bit sheepishly I said yes.
“The steering team gave final approval to our next steps with Gregg. I think several of them were shell shocked by the ethnography. Two of them have approached me already and want to do ethnography in their businesses.”
That statement had me choking, and not from the sweet smoke from my stogie.
“Umm, Susan” I said between coughs “you know that they shouldn’t just “do” some ethnography without a really well defined need, right?”
“Breathe deeply, Sam. I know that and will do the best I can to control their eagerness. No tool we introduce is going to solve problems by itself. But the impact the ethnography had, along with the scenario planning, a big impact. I think a number of people entered the meeting as skeptics and left, if not as believers, with a different perspective.”
“OK, they came and were converted. What does the collection plate look like?”
“Oh, the offering was a good one. Gregg has a 1 million dollar budget to continue to develop ideas for his business. But that’s not the best news.”
She paused, with one of those expectant pauses that literally cries out for interruption. I decided not to give her the pleasure. The silence was deafening. I drew on my cigar, blowing smoke rings out the window. It was nice out. The sun was shining. My new favorite client had a great return on our project so far. The new techniques and tools had met with great acceptance.
“Don’t you want to know the best news?”
“Can it get any better than Fred Phillips’s face after the ethnography? I’ve seen slack-jawed in my time, but, really…
“I know what you are doing. OK, here it is. Brockwell and Dowdy have agreed to name me to a new role – Innovation Director – through the end of the year. If we do well in this project, I could become the Chief Innovation officer by early next year. In addition, they will provide me with a small budget and allow me to hire two people to support innovation at the corporate level.”
I smiled, and blew a smoke ring at the phone this time.
“Congratulations. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer person.”
“Thanks Sam. I’m really excited. The Aerospace team is really jazzed. I can’t wait to kick off the next phase of the journey.”
“I think this is where I say this looks like the start of a beautiful friendship.”
The rest of what we said wasn’t really important. Even for an ornery, cynical innovation consultant who has seen all the excuses and used a few himself, it was a moment to savor. We made our plans and did the usual goodbyes, but the moment seemed to freeze, ever so briefly. It was perfect – a bright, shiny little moment filled with sunshine, warm breezes, client satisfaction and Macanudo smoke. They say a man can never truly understand what it’s like to give birth. I’ll grant you that we’ll never understand the trials of the birthing process. But from the benefit side, every once in a while, a plan comes together and you birth something that maybe, just maybe, will turn out to be incredible.
By Jeffrey Phillips