Growing up, one of my favorite movies was the Steve Martin vehicle The Jerk. There are lots of reasons to enjoy The Jerk, but perhaps my favorite part was the scene where he loses his fortune, and is being kicked out of his house. He tells the people around him he doesn’t need anything. Anything that is, other than:
“Just this ashtray. And this paddle game, the ashtray and the paddle game and that’s all I need. And this remote control. The ashtray, the paddle game, and the remote control, and that’s all I need. And these matches. The ashtray, and these matches, and the remote control and the paddle ball. And this lamp. The ashtray, this paddle game and the remote control and the lamp and that’s all I need. And that’s all I need too. I don’t need one other thing, not one – I need this. The paddle game, and the chair, and the remote control, and the matches, for sure. And this. And that’s all I need. The ashtray, the remote control, the paddle game, this magazine and the chair.”
After a week of working with several clients who are focused on developing and extending innovation capabilities and disciplines, I found myself thinking about this movie, but in this case I’m the one who is quoting the line. I find myself saying “All you need to innovate is a solid team, a defined process, a supportive culture, a clear strategy..”
Examples from our work
In one instance, we were working with the CEO to understand just how much of his time and attention were necessary to make sustained innovation successful in his organization. We recognized that we needed to use a concrete example, so we referred to a managing philosophy he introduced, implemented and reinforced throughout the business over a two year period. When we quizzed him about what we necessary for success of a significant corporate change like the one he implemented, he suggested three criteria:
- A “burning platform” that requires change
- Clear goals and rationale for change
- A trusted tool or methodology to achieve the desired outcome.
That’s just what we need for innovation success. A dedicated senior leadership, identifying the reasons for innovation change, who implement trusted tools and encourage an organization to believe in the possibilities a new approach will create.
In other words, all you need for innovation success is a committed executive team who are as energetic and committed to implementing innovation capabilities as they were implementing some other methodology – like balanced scorecard or Lean, for example.
With a different client, it became clear that the executives are “behind” innovation as a growth strategy, but they want their teams to have clear methods, carefully defined tools and the skills and training necessary to implement them. That’s because while innovation is desirable, and sustained innovation is preferable, few organizations have the skills and tools in place to innovate.
So, in this case all you need for innovation is a carefully defined “cookbook” of tools and processes that the product teams can understand, follow and implement successfully. Along with, of course, the engaged commitment of the senior team, which they have promised.
The fact is that it takes a lot of people, culture, processes, leadership, commitment and resources to innovate. The sooner you start your mantra “All I need to innovate is…” the better off you’ll be. Setting the right expectations early, even though you won’t get everything you want, is better than going it alone. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a lot of commitment, resources, culture change and luck to innovate.
Picking and choosing
What’s different about corporate innovation from Steve’s list of his favorite items is that there’s not a lot of picking and choosing allowed. There are some factors that are absolute “musts” when innovating, and executives can’t ignore them or substitute other ingredients. Some of these factors have been discussed previous in this post: clear strategy, ongoing commitment from executives, the right resources, a culture that sustains innovation. You can’t pick one or two of these and hope to innovate sustainably over time. Each of the features has its place for innovation, and ignoring it or simply skipping over the attribute means innovation will be less than successful. A half-hearted commitment to innovation doesn’t result in half-hearted innovation.
Innovation is relatively binary – so it either works, or it doesn’t, and half-hearted attempts are rarely successful. Ask yourself – what do we really need in order to innovate? Are we ready and willing to commit those?
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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 Relentless Innovation and the blog Innovate on Purpose.