As a consultant who works in the innovation space, I’ve seen lots of innovation initiatives. Some were successful in spite of themselves, and some were failures even when all the “right” people were involved. Some rely overmuch on technology, and some succeed using paper and pencil. Some have plenty of training and process, some purely adhoc. But the common denominators of all successful innovation projects are two factors: vision and passion. Let’s explore each of them briefly.
When I say vision, I am using the word to represent several characteristics or components. To me, vision is understanding the need to create something new, and understanding the emerging opportunities and/or challenges that a team should address. Vision is also about being able to communicate those facts to others and get them to see the same opportunities as you do. Often we see innovation projects that have been started because “someone” – usually a senior executive – believes innovation is important. But no one stopped to consider what the strategy or vision for the innovation effort should be. Inevitably this means the innovation team spins their wheels, or defines a vision for themselves. Without a vision to strive towards, the team can’t make headway. A good vision should stretch the organization and take them out of their comfort zone, since you really can’t innovate while resting comfortably in your little cocoon. Frankly, it doesn’t really matter “who” has the vision as long as someone is willing to stick their neck out and declare the vision. In many cases the vision is stated by someone who isn’t the initiator of the project, and doesn’t have the “right” authority.
When we talk about passion, we are taking about people who are sold-out to solving a problem or creating a new thing. Their commitment is almost contagious, and seems a bit unsettling to the people who aren’t on the team. After all, if you are going to innovate, you better be a true believer. Everything in an organization is established to maintain the status quo, and you’ll be doing everything you can to upset the status quo. If you aren’t passionate about the idea, you’ll fail every time. It’s for this reason that we try to reject anyone who has been “assigned” to an innovation project. We want volunteers – even if they aren’t the “right” people, if they believe in the opportunity and are fully engaged in finding a new or better way, or new or better product or service. People who are “assigned” to innovation rarely have the passion necessary to fight the battles that are required when implementing radical change.
If you have the vision necessary to be successful, or are willing to define it for your team, and you have a couple of people who are passionate about the idea or solution, you have all the key ingredients to be successful once at innovation. At OVO we believe that you can create a systemic innovation capability by adding in a consistent, repeatable innovation process and framework, so the people who are passionate don’t have to invent an innovation method and process every time. However, you can have all the innovation tools and techniques on the planet, you can quiz your customers and use “open innovation”, you can implement all the idea management software in the world, but if you don’t have good vision and high passion for the problem or solution, it will all go for naught.
When “vision” – strategy, strategic intent, scope definition, problem identification, clear communication – and “passion” – fully sold out people willing to implement change and explore new ideas – meet, they form an irresistible force. Then the question will be whether or not your culture is an immovable object.
Jeffrey Phillips is a senior leader at OVO Innovation. OVO works with large distributed organizations to build innovation teams, processes and capabilities. Jeffrey is the author of “Make us more Innovative”, and innovateonpurpose.blogspot.com.