What’s the Value of an Innovation Mentor?

When I say “innovator,” what image comes to mind? A brilliant, but misunderstood figure hunched over a drawing board by the light of a single lamp in the middle of the night – cup of coffee dwindling slowly, pages of crumpled notes on the floor?

The fact of the matter is that there’s a lot of room for debate and variability in that image above (is coffee really good for creativity? Are innovators also night owls?), but the one idea that seems the most fallacious in that vision is that an innovator acts alone. It’s one of the most common misconceptions about originality and potentially one of the most damaging. In Steven Johnson’s book Where Good Ideas Come From, he discusses how networked ideas (ideas with multiple collaborators and linked ideas) are actually the most valuable and the most disruptive.

Which brings us to the idea of the innovation mentor. Mentoring has long played an important role in the business world. In fact, 88% of business owners that have a mentor, say that it is valuable. Which translates to businesses that last longer, with bigger networks, and more successful business models.

Innovation mentors play a similar role. They are there to nurture people, but also ideas. They provide valuable feedback to build ideas, connect those ideas and ideators with similar or linked concepts and people, and they provide encouragement to original thinkers when it’s hard to keep faith. Innovators that connect with these type of mentors are more likely to build networked concepts, have a positive experience with the creative process (even if it doesn’t end up working out), and deliver on their ideas more quickly.

This is particularly important in an idea management program. When you have a lot of ideas and are trying to nurture the best ones, it isn’t up to an innovation program or R&D department to come up with ideas anymore, but to provide mentors and guidance as those ideas develop. The very best idea management programs provide training and guidance not just to their ideators, but to their innovation mentors.

To learn more about the role of the innovation mentor, download this complimentary infographic.

By Rob Hoehn

About the author

Rob Hoehn is the co-founder and CEO of IdeaScale: the largest open innovation software platform in the world. Hoehn launched crowdsourcing software as part of the open government initiative and IdeaScale’s robust portfolio now includes many other industry notables, such as EA Sports, NBC, NASA, Xerox and many others. Prior to IdeaScale, Hoehn was Vice President of Client Services at Survey Analytics.

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