Innovation isn’t the Goal; It’s the Strategy.

By Tony Vengrove Strategy Focus I’ve come to the conclusion that the “We Have to Innovate or Die” mantra has done more harm than good. The fatal flaw comes from the use of the word, “innovate.” It leaves many thinking innovation is the goal as opposed to an enabling strategy—that if some form of innovation is not achieved, the company is destined for extinction. Yes, we have to innovate, but again, innovation isn’t the goal, it’s an enabling strategy.

“How can we better serve our market?”

It’s time we treat it as such.  We’ll all be better served if we stop focusing on innovation as a means to an end, and get back to asking: How can we better serve our market? This question invites strategic and creative thinking. There are surely numerous ways to serve our market better; delivering innovation is just one of them.

During my corporate years, I didn’t come to work everyday asking myself, What can I innovate? I concentrated on how we could attract new customers to our business. How could we better serve the market? How can I capture an attractive market segment for our company? What changes in the market should we be worried about? Answers to questions like these led to an array of ideas ranging from new product concepts, pricing strategies, to marketing communication and more.

Perhaps I’m a different breed, but when I led innovation teams I didn’t feel obligated to only influence new product development; I viewed my role as having the authority to scrutinize all facets of the business—internally and externally. By taking a holistic approach to what was precipitating change in consumer behavior and market dynamics, we not only questioned every detail about the business, we forced people to explain why they were doings things the way they were. This curiosity and the conversation it generated often resulted in a “What if we…?” moment—that inspirational aha when someone connects the dots and shares an idea.

When innovation teams adopt a more holistic approach to their strategic thinking, they’ll not only develop ideas that are more aligned with market needs, they’ll be quicker to identify emergent strategic shifts that warrant further study and response.  And in this day and age, we all know the value of getting out in front of an important trend.

“The goal for innovation leaders is to ensure perpetual growth for the business.”

The most important goal for an innovation leader is to ensure perpetual growth for the business.  The goal isn’t to just churn out new products. Believe me, I know firsthand what it’s like to lead innovation. The pressure to deliver is often translated into numerical targets: bring X amount of new concepts to the table and launch X amount of new products into market. Those are important metrics to track, but when you’re simply trying to hit numbers, you’re probably going to waste precious resources launching subpar ideas. Just because something is novel and you have the capability to produce it doesn’t mean you should.

Treating innovation as a strategy helps avoid the temptation to think myopically about new product development. By asking, “How can we better serve our market?” instead of “What can we innovate?” ensures you’ll identify multiple relevant opportunities across the entire marketing mix that can serve to preserve and grow your business.  That’s what it all about!

Photo: Getty Images/IvelinRadkov

Tony VengroveMiles Finch Innovation helps companies navigate the messy territory of corporate innovation. We’re strategic thinking partners who can help you get unstuck and identify creative solutions to your toughest challenges. We also love to train and speak on the subject of Creative Leadership. Email us or call us at 860-799-7505 to learn how we can help you you unlock the creative potential of your employees.

Related Posts:

Innovate Invites Action

Why Big Companies Can’t Innovate: Insights from a Former Fortune 200 Innovation Director

An Ostentation of Peacocks

 

Introducing The Seven C’s of Creative Leadership Podcast Series

By Tony Vengrove

7 C's of Creative Leadership

Since Miles Finch Innovation opened its doors in 2012, we’ve championed the development of creative leadership capabilities for our C-Suite clients. For over 10 years, I’ve had the privilege of leading corporate innovation teams; I can tell you first hand that the lack of creative-leadership skills represents the biggest leadership abyss in corporate America today. It’s why nearly every CEO who says she’s committed to innovation, also confesses she’s underwhelmed with the quality of ideas in the pipeline.

To fill this critical void, I’m thrilled to announce that Miles Finch Innovation, on Monday August 25th, is launching an exciting new podcast series entitled, “The Seven C’s of Creative Leadership.” We’ve partnered with the amazing Todd Schnick of Dreamland Media to produce a nine-part series illustrating each Seven C Competency: communication, curiosity, creativity, connecting, culture, change management and courage. We have a fabulous AAA lineup of guests who operate on the frontline of innovation. They’re going to share their firsthand perspective of what it really takes to lead innovation and foster a culture of creativity.

We’re going to arm you with practical applications that can be put into practice immediately, so you can model the powerful behaviors of an effective creative leader. You’ll put yourself, and your organization, on a path to creativity and successful innovation.

“A creative leader fosters the conditions for others to be creative.”

What is Creative Leadership? While the term has been bandied about for some time, it’s gaining increased attention as corporate leaders recognize innovation requires an ability to inspire and manage creativity—something they have very little experience at. Unlike many who think creative leadership requires demonstrating one’s personal creativity, we believe it’s far more important for a creative leader to foster the conditions for others to be creative.

Why is Creative Leadership so important? Once a company makes the commitment to innovate, they’re essentially making creativity a cultural pillar. Since most companies are process-oriented and their leaders have great analytical prowess, it’s no surprise that a tug-of-war quickly forms between the logical and creative thinkers. Can you guess who wins?

The problem is, most companies leap into innovation doing what they do best: creating processes and business systems that provide order and control. They set up the innovation department, create the governance, and put their top-tier managers in control. From the get-go, the innovation function is designed to play by the rules of the existing culture, which is usually hell-bent on guarding the status quo. It’s no wonder so many potentially-disruptive ideas are eventually shot down.

“Become a better steward of your company’s greatest asset: employee creativity!”

What can you expect to gain from this series?  We desire to establish a conversation that moves beyond the philosophical level of innovation and creativity. This series will provide pragmatic, actionable insights leaders will want to put into practice immediately. We want to inspire you to become better stewards of your company’s greatest asset: employee creativity!

Who are you going to be inspired by? They’re leaders in F500, advertising, consulting, and an acclaimed international author.  Here they are:

Introduction:  Co-hosts Todd Schnick and Tony Vengrove

Communication: Perry Baldwin, COO, The Family Room

Curiosity: Steve Kazanjian, Founder, Steve Kazanjian, LLC

Creativity: David Bonner, Chief Creative Officer, Marriner Marketing

Connecting: Max Mckeown, Author of The Innovation Book

Culture: Tim Murphy, VP Digital & Media, Pernod Ricard

Change Management: Jeff Shuck, CEO of Plenty

Courage: Denis Budniewski, EVP, Director of Account Leadership at Campbell Mithun

Series Wrap-Up: Ivy Ross, Head of Google Glass.

How you can access this content? Catch each episode of The Seven C’s of Creative Leadership by visiting this page, beginning August 25th and each Monday thereafter.  Mark it on your calendar in red ink!

In addition, on Thursdays, we’ll post a reflective blog on each “C” right here at www.MilesFinchInnovation.com. These articles will provide a summary of each podcast episode, along with key action items and reflective questions.

We hope you’ll join us for this important conversation!  It’s going to change your company’s culture! Creative leadership is the new frontier of leadership theory. It represents the missing piece in the leader’s tool-belt that will foster the innovative culture so desperately needed.

We welcome you to read our foundational post on the Seven C’s of Creative Leadership. If you want to learn more about the Creative Leadership training programs Miles Finch Innovation offers, please email us at info@milesfinchinnovation.com.

Know Precedes No

By Tony Vengrove

Know Button

Today’s frenetic business pace invites alacrity and quick decision-making. Most of us have jam-packed schedules and to-do lists that rarely are completely checked-off by the end of the day. We dash into a 30-minute meeting knowing that if people start asking too many questions, a debate will erupt and we’ll never make the next meeting on time.

The preponderance of back-to-back meetings puts pressure on leaders to quickly get a lay of the land, make a hurried decision, and then race off to the next appointment. This cadence may work well for core-business matters, such as a budget meeting or review of project priorities, but that mindset is dangerous to bring into an innovation meeting.

When an idea is pitched to us, with adrenaline still racing through our system and our eyes on the clock, we set ourselves up for a quick yes or no response. If a presenter can’t quickly demonstrate the links between her idea to both corporate strategy and consumer needs, the idea is usually DOA.

A new idea is a fragile entity, rarely fully formed without flaw. What may sound brilliant to some can sound absurd to others. One thing all ideas share, however, is potential; some have more potential than others, but all have some level of opportunity. This is so important because the only way to access the idea’s potential is to keep it alive long enough so a broader group of minds can possibly shape it into a brilliant diamond.

Rushing, delivering a hasty “No” verdict, denies the opportunity to “Know” if the idea truly has potential or not. It wipes out the opportunity to experiment and learn – trying, failing, and learning are critical stepping-stones to any breakthrough idea.

Before we say no to any idea, we should be sure that we gave the opportunity due diligence; to fully understand what the presenter saw that was so exciting and relevant for the business. Remember, your team is taking time to think, create and package an idea. If you cut the discussion off too quickly, you’ll frustrate them. Do this too often and they’ll stop bringing ideas to you.

Back in my early advertising days, I recall a critical time on a cold medicine account that demanded a lot of creative thinking in a short window of time. We were working feverishly to turn insights from a major research project into a new advertising campaign before the next cold-season struck. On a hot NYC summer afternoon, a large group of us gathered in a conference room. The diverse team included some of the most senior-level executives in the agency, down to the most junior (that was me).

As the session unfolded, the conversation grew heated, ideas bouncing around wildly. As I sat and listened, I suddenly had an epiphany. I humbly raised my hand and spoke: “It seems to me that all our ideas are from the perspective of the cold sufferer. What if we flipped that around and looked through the lens of the cold virus? If you think about it from that perspective, our brand becomes the virus’s worst enemy. It could be a differentiating way to communicate our benefits and may give our creative team an opportunity to have some fun.”

“Hmmm, that’s interesting,” someone said. Then dead silence until the senior strategy-person spoke up and essentially guillotined my idea. It died then and there, completely dismissed.

Fast forward to the following winter. I was now working at a new agency and memories of that meeting were forgotten. One Saturday, as I listened to music on my car radio, on came an advertisement for that cold-medicine brand and, wouldn’t you know it, the campaign was using my idea – personified cold-viruses frightened to death of the product.  “Hey, that’s my idea!”

Although my original concept hit the proverbial brick wall, another creative team grabbed onto it. They kept it alive, refined it, made it better and sold it. They took the time to get to know the idea before they judged it.

So when I propose that “Know” should precede “No,” all I’m suggesting is that we give our ideas the time and due diligence they deserve. The next time someone shares an idea, and your gut is just begging for you to say no for expediency’s sake, take a breath and try to understand why the person senses opportunity. What is it they see that you don’t? Ask why the idea is on strategy. If it’s not on strategy, explain why you feel that way and make sure they leave the meeting understanding why it’s missing the mark.

When you do that, you keep the idea alive and empower people to continue thinking about how to bring it back on strategy so that it addresses your concerns. In essence, they walk away knowing why you said no – at least for now.

Miles Finch Innovation helps companies navigate the messy territory of corporate innovation.  We’re strategic thinking partners who can help you get unstuck and identify creative solutions to your toughest challenges.  We also love to train and speak on the subject of Creative Leadership.  Email us or call us at 860-799-7505 to learn how we can help you unlock the creative potential of your employees.

Related Posts:

The Seven C’s of Creative Leadership

The Toyota Jump & Power of Objective Based Leadership

Innovation Agility: The Constant Shift Between Creativity & Logic

 

Innovation Agility: The Constant Shift Between Creativity & Logic

By Anthony Vengrove

Miles Finch Innovation Agility

It’s like pistons in an engine.  A spark creates an explosion that drives the piston but friction eventually slows it down — requiring more combustion to keep it in motion.  Ideas are like a spark that ignites creative energy but the friction created by logic often slows things down to a halt.

I define Innovation Agility simply as the act of repeatedly shifting between creative and logical thinking.  From the birth of an idea all the way through to commercialization, innovation benefits from this rhythmic competency as it helps teams solve problems quickly, identify or invent solutions required to make an idea feasible, and create a culture of patience so that ideas have time to incubate and transform from good to great.

Most companies, however, are built upon a cultural foundation that values and rewards  logic and analytical mindsets.  Processes, policies, and business models — all analytical, left-brain systems put in place to help promote compliance and predictability while mitigating risk.

And just when everything seems under control, along comes the innovation agenda!  In the midst of all this logical infrastructure, employees are suddenly encouraged to use the right side of their brain and share their collective creative genius!

The result?  An inevitable tug of war!  One side clings to the known while the other side embraces the unknown.  One side digs into the past while the other side attempts to pull everyone toward the future.

This tension has existed for centuries and was born from a debate about the source of creativity.  The debate manifested itself into two groups of thought: rationalism versus romanticism.  Each were described as follows:

  • Rationalism:  Creativity is generated by the conscious, deliberating, intelligent, rational mind.¹
  • Romanticism:  Creativity bubbles up from an irrational unconsciousness; rational deliberation interferes with the creative process.¹

Sound familiar?  The implication is that the strained relationship between creativity and logic is not just a real phenomenon, it’s here to stay.  Therefore, not only do we have to get accustomed to it, we’d better learn how to lead through it.

Idea Climate Equation®For those familiar with our Idea Climate Equation®, we talk about this tension frequently.  If you look at the illustration of the equation, you might recognize this conflict through the thoughtful placement of each variable.  Logic is in the denominator for two key reasons: 1) to acknowledge that it is necessary and must be present (i.e., can’t be zero), and 2) the more that logic dominates, the more it “cuts into” and inhibits creativity.

I find this simple equation helps leaders visualize the relationship between creativity and logic which often leads to two realizations:  1) how the predominance of logic in their organization has the ability to crush fresh thinking, and 2) that both mindsets, while critically important, don’t necessarily have to show up to the same meeting.  At the end of the day, this is the key lesson about Innovation Agility.  When it’s time to be creative, be creative.  Don’t let logic creep in too early and bombard your creative thinking discussions with questions that no one will have an answer for.  There will be a time for critical thinking.

Similarly, when due diligence identifies a problem, don’t give up too quickly.  Your ideas are your intellectual property — don’t dismiss them as unattainable at the first sign of a roadblock.  Given them a chance to sprout and take hold.  Provide objectives or specific constraints and, most importantly, time so that your team can creatively problem solve and develop solutions that keep your concept alive.  That’s another big benefit of Innovation Agility — ideas tend to stay alive longer.  And when ideas hang around longer, you increase your odds of someone on the team having a big, breakthrough ‘aha’ moment.

The more you can cultivate Innovation Agility across your organization, the more likely you’ll be able to jump over the barriers that otherwise would have killed promising ideas.  And when you build an army of Creative Leaders who are comfortable shifting back and forth between creative and logical thinking — you’ll create an innovation engine that’s got the horsepower of a V12.

¹ Definitions adapted from Explaining Creativity, R. Keith Sawyer (2006), Oxford University Press, p. 15

 

Miles Finch Innovation helps companies navigate the messy territory of corporate innovation.  We’re strategic thinking partners who can help you get unstuck and identify creative solutions to your toughest challenges.  We also love to train and speak on the subject of Creative Leadership.  Email us or call us at 203-788-2665 to learn how we can help you unlock the creative potential of your employees.

Related Posts:
The Components of an Idea Climate
The Seven C’s of Creative Leadership
Leading Innovation with your Change Management Hat

 

How to Influence Your Creative Culture When You’re Not in Charge

By Anthony Vengrove

Proactive Creative Leadership

I’ve said it many a times, any company that commits to the pursuit of innovation is essentially contracting to become more creative.  The implication of this statement is that the transition, most often than not, involves cultural change — which ultimately requires senior leadership to craft and communicate vision, then lead by example. (Also read: Leading Innovation with your Change Management Hat.)

But, not everyone sits at the top.  Nor is everyone employeed at a company where management feels completely comfortable welcoming creativity with a warm embrace.  The good news is there are ways to proactively foster fresh thinking and innovation in your organization even if you’re not sitting in a position of authority.  Here’s how:

10 Tips to Influence Your Creative Culture When You’re Not in Charge

Ask for a problem to solve:  If your company lacks a vision (or the one in place is not very inspirational) or tends to treat bold ideas very conservatively, try asking a senior leader for a specific challenge to solve.  This does two things:  1) it grounds you both in an objective, and 2) it makes you look proactive and eager to think beyond the normal day-to-day activities.  When the leader engages, he or she is effectively opting-in for a creative exploratory and will feel compelled to listen to your solutions.

Don’t rush ideas up the ladder:  When inspiration strikes, our excitement often urges us to share immediately for instant feedback or approval.  I urge you to take a breath and give your idea a little space to take shape – even if it’s just a day or so.  Plan and schedule a time (either formally or informally) to present your idea once you’ve had a chance think it over, rehearse a pitch and anticipate challenges.  When we’re smitten with an idea, we tend to be blinded with optimism — only seeing what’s great about it.  Your audience, on the other hand, will likely be searching for reasons why it’s not so great.  You need to be prepared.

Walk in their shoes:  Be mindful of the pressure and deliverables of those above you when sharing your concept.  Ask yourself how your idea will either make their job easier or more difficult.  If it’s the latter, explain how your leadership of the project won’t interfere with the broader deliverables they will be focused on.  Also, consider what is the right time to meet with someone.  If you barge into a colleagues’s office during a time they value (eg., morning is their alone time to think and write), you’re essentially taking something away from them — and they won’t be too happy about that.

Start with the objective:  Never pitch an idea without first grounding your audience in the previously agreed upon objective.  I can’t stress this enough.  Your objective is terra firma.  It is the tool you use to keep the conversation on a strategic plane versus a subjective one.  Of course, be sure you conclude your pitch with at least three rationale points that support why your idea fulfills the objective.

Bring ideas to life & choose language wisely:  An idea is just a mental concept.  Your job is to use whatever resources are at your disposal to bring it to life:  sketches, photographs, screen shots of inspiring technologies, videos — whatever it takes to help people see what you see.  The brain is much more adept at understanding information it can visualize.  Also, carefully choose the words and/or claims you include in your presentation.  I’ve seen many a good idea veer off-course as a result of people getting hung up over one ‘controversial’ word.

‘Help me understand why it’s not on strategy?’:  This is a question to keep in your back pocket at all times.  When an idea is struggling to be accepted and your audience seems intent on killing it, ask why it’s not on strategy.  For example, you can say, ‘We feel this idea addresses our agreed upon objective for reasons X, Y and Z – help me understand what you see differently.’ This will compel them to articulate a strategic and rational answer.  Dialogue at this level has multiple benefits:  1) it can actually help save an idea that’s a victim of pre-judgement, 2) it fosters employee engagement as people will feel that they were listened to and that their idea got a fair shot, and 3) it provides constructive feedback that can serve to inspire continued idea shaping.

Anticipate the tension between creativity and logic:  As we describe in our Idea Climate Equation® work, a natural tension exists between creativity and logic.  This friction has existed for centuries (i.e., the debate between rationalism and romanticism) which means it’s likely not going to go away any time soon.  Therefore, you must accept it, plan for it, and adapt to ICEanticipated issues and challenges that will arise because of it.  I believe that the more disruptive or bold a creative idea is — or the more it challenges the status quo — the more a group is subject to using logic to explain it away.  Both logic and creativity are essential during an idea’s journey, of course.  Your job as a Creative Leader is to be mindful of the climate and to encourage people to use the appropriate side of their brain based upon what is required at the present moment.

Don’t just sell the idea, sell the first step:  For many who sit in idea receivership it’s hard not to jump ahead and calculate an idea’s complexity or cost.  Many ideas won’t have the benefit of existing manufacturing capability or a strong confidence level for feasibility and cost projections.  Rather than allow leaders to conclude your idea is too costly or complicated, be prepared to sell the first step you’d like to take to test and learn. The cost to obtain a prototype piece of equipment that will allow your R&D team to begin experimenting and testing will be significantly less than the cost to build the final line for commercial production.  I’ve seen amazing things happen when companies simply take a first step and start learning.

Invite leadership to participate:  It is in your best interest to engage the key players involved in your company’s innovation coalition.  This means encouraging them to play outside of the formal new product presentations.  You can invite them to a brainstorm, research event or simply ask to have lunch every other week so that you can bounce ideas and thoughts off them.  The more they participate, the more vested they’ll become — which will help shift your creative culture in the right direction.  For when employees see and hear senior leaders engaging with innovation, they’ll believe there is commitment to change at the top.

Start small & create a success story:  Most academic definitions of innovation essentially describe it as capturing value from an idea.  This means most anything can be innovated.  Don’t get trapped into thinking innovation has to be some huge, game-changing concept.  If you’re sitting in a junior role, don’t be afraid to a find small but relevant opportunity that you can influence and make better.  Quite often these proactive success stories are celebrated at employee meetings and can serve to inspire others to join the relentless pursuit of better ways.

When you proactively implement these tips into your daily routine, you can help your organization shape new behaviors and values associated with creative leadership and with the evaluation of new ideas.  The world of innovation and change requires much input and involvement from senior management, but that doesn’t mean you should sit and wait for instructions.  Remember, most CEOs claim they recognize the need to cultivate creativity in their organization (source: IBM Global CEO Survey).  You just need to package it up in a way that doesn’t scare them away from the table.

Miles Finch Innovation helps companies navigate the messy territory of corporate innovation.  We’re strategic thinking partners who can help you get unstuck and identify creative solutions to your toughest challenges.  We also love to train and speak on the subject of Creative Leadership.  Email us or call us at 203-788-2665 to learn how we can help you unlock the creative potential of your employees.

Related Posts:
Leading Innovation with your Change Management Hat
The Seven C’s of Creative Leadership
The Toyota Jump & Power of Objective Based Leadership