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.

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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.

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On Curiosity

Image

By Tony Vengrove

Hard to Be Curious

In the 7 C’s of Creative Leadership, curiosity is a key attribute for cultivating creativity and imagination.  “Why?” and “Why not?” are the kinds of questions to accomplish this.  These simple questions increase your rational and emotional intelligence of any challenge and will always point you in the right direction.  Curiosity is the engine that drives us toward the Truth; and when we objectively fully comprehend an opportunity then, and only then, will we develop the solutions that resonate and engage the curiosity of our target consumers.

Curiosity also leads to empathy.  It allows us to appreciate what it feels like to walk in our customers’ shoes.  Great advertising, design and innovation, all evoke empathy re the consumer experience in a fresh, original way.  This is why breakthrough creative work elicits responses such as, “It’s like they know exactly who I am,” or “This is precisely how I feel.”

Nowadays we’re all racing at breakneck speed.  Unfortunately, there’s an inverse relationship between speed and curiosity.  The faster you move, the more difficult it is to develop a deep understanding.  Curiosity requires time for immersion and conversation.  Creative leaders must factor this into projects; teams must have the space to search for hidden Truths.

This will allow our imaginations to run wild!

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.

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Belief Creates Bandwidth

By Anthony Vengrove

iStockphoto Confirm # 131217-9224286-278

‘Tis the season to believe.  I’m a big believer — and not just during the holiday season.

Since leaving my corporate career in January 2012, I started Miles Finch Innovation, have almost completed a masters in Leading Innovation and Change, reveled in the birth of our adorable twins (and survived the subsequent sleep deprivation), moved both my business and family from Virginia to Connecticut, worked on many interesting client projects, spoke at some fantastic events — and that’s just naming a few things!

Whenever I tell my friends about all the projects I’m chasing, I usually get the same reaction: “Wow, how do you manage to get all that done?”  My answer is simple, “I believe in what I’m doing.”

Belief has the power to increase bandwidth.  It can turn a job into a calling.  I’ve found both my productivity and ability to generate ideas have increased since I’ve ventured into entrepreneurism.  I don’t seem to mind a busy schedule or putting in extra hours.  I welcome tough problems for they provide an opportunity to deliver great solutions.  My capacity and energy always seem to be in abundance when belief is present.

As a small business owner, my belief is ultimately centered on one thing — myself.   I’m a loyal advocate of the mantra, “If you believe it, you will see it.”  And I believe I’m building something great.  The moment I don’t believe in myself is when I’m most vulnerable.  It’s when my ego tries to convince me that I’m not good enough, that there are others out there better than I, or that someone else has already pursued my ideas.  Belief is the beacon that allows me to re-align with my goals; guiding me through the foggy sections of the journey when vision isn’t always clear.  Or, when the path seems particularly treacherous.

Belief is a catalyst.  It has magical ability to invite extraordinary amounts of creative thinking and problem solving out of our minds and into the open.  Suddenly, everything seems like it is a possibility.  That’s Idea Climate Equation®why belief is the most important variable in our Idea Climate Equation® for its presence is sure to catalyze creativity exponentially.

What is belief exactly?  It is simply the absence of doubt.  Believing is about acceptance and appreciation of what we deem to be true.  When an idea is shared among believers — people look for opportunity and potential.  When doubt reigns, ideas are skeptically judged with little regard for their fragile, not-fully-formed nature.  Nothing amputates creative thinking faster than a modest dose of doubt.

Believers value faith.  Disbelievers value proof.  It’s a conflict that often favors the doubters for they can dust off history’s data and experiences to craft a conveniently logical argument why something won’t work.  That is much easier to do than to defend a seemingly absurd idea and transform it into zeitgeist.

That’s why I find Henry Ford’s quote about belief to be so provoking:  “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.”  Or, Theodore Roosevelt’s take, “Believe you can and you’re halfway there.”  If uncertainty always scared people away from their beliefs and dreams, great successes would often just be the byproduct of luck.

For uncertainty requires courage; and belief begets courage.

So as we say goodbye to 2013, let’s use our holiday break to pause and reflect upon what’s been learned over the past twelve months.  Set big audacious goals for 2014.  Dream big.  Build up the courage to start something new.

Believe you can do it.  I know you can.

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.

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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.

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