In my continuing list of roles that any innovator must play, we come to the role that may be the most important role of all. Certainly we’ve seen how innovators must play a number of roles, including the Matador, the Futurist and the Jester. These roles have much to do with defining the opportunities and achieving initial traction. We’ve also examined the Tinkerer role, which has to do with developing and testing ideas once they are generated. Today I want to talk about the role that links all of these and many others, the role I call the Bulldozer.
I suppose the label “Bulldozer” is somewhat politically incorrect, but nonetheless the label is often correct. Innovation is the most difficult initiative to start, and one of the easiest to stop. This truism means that an innovation leader must be able to create a great amount of momentum and inevitability about their project at the outset, and retain a great amount of buy-in and credibility throughout the project as well. In fact I struggled over the label, considering and rejecting the label “Diplomat”. The challenge with Diplomats in an innovation setting is that constant negotiation without creating anything new is failure. When a firm needs innovation to remain competitive, internal negotiations and diplomatic maneuvers are as helpful as debating the size and shape of the table at peace talks, for example, in the Korean War.
In any innovation project there will be hundreds of reasons to slow the project, to redirect the effort, to redeploy the people assigned. The innovation leader must have a single, overriding focus – to accomplish the initial goals and completely as possible, and stiff-arm as many attempts as possible to detract the team from its mission. These distractions will take the form of very reasonable requests, such as:
- Reducing the size of the innovation team since the people are desperately needed to maintain existing products
- Waiting until next (quarter, year, etc) to start the project
- Reducing the scope of the innovation effort to become far more incremental
- Shortening the timeframe of the innovation project to produce innovations “faster”
- Attempting to redirect the team to new goals part-way through the effort
If you are an innovation leader, all of these sirens will call as your ship passes by. You’ll need the single minded focus of the bulldozer to deflect these “reasonable” requests to achieve interesting, valuable innovative results. Everything about existing corporate culture will work to impede your progress, attaching themselves to your ship like barnacles and anchors. As much as is humanly and culturally possible, you must reject these requests, always pointing back to your original goals, and you must keep up the momentum of your effort. An innovation project delayed or deflected is an innovation project denied.
The best recommendation I can make for innovation leaders is to be a positive force for change, constantly referring back to an original “charter” or agreement about the scope and goals of the innovation project, and rejecting as much as possible the slings and arrows of the existing culture that will attempt to delay, distract and reduce your outcomes and goals. These barriers are inevitable – the real question to ask is: how prepared are you to deal with them, and do you understand the value of momentum in an innovation project?
If you missed the other roles, here are links to them for your convenience:
Editor’s Note: For a look at some team-based innovation roles, check out The Nine Innovation Roles
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.