Innovation Subversives

Jim Todhunter offers sound advice for innovation champions who are feeling lonely in their efforts to evangelize:

“This is where many innovation evangelists fall down.  Too often, we are so wrapped up in our own world of high performance innovation practice; we forget that many people don’t have the frame of reference to get what we are describing.  We need to slow down and articulate the message more clearly and use clear examples that demonstrate how sustainable innovation practice builds the company’s value.”

This strikes a familiar chord with my colleagues in the Fortune 100.  Not only can innovation champions feel lonely, they can become extinct if they are not careful.  The Association for Managers of Innovation studied why corporate innovation champions struggle to survive.  The study looked at what actions and behaviors put these managers at risk in their efforts to evangelize.  Of the 15 innovation champions in the study, 10 left their organizations and became consultants, 4 joined smaller or start-up companies, and 1 retired. None returned to a Fortune 500 company.  Most of the consultants have as their clients Fortune 500 companies and, in some cases, their former employers.

My advice: stop evangelizing and start doing.  Use a proven innovation method on a mainstream issue or product and let the results speak for themselves.  Don’t ask permission.  Don’t call it innovation.  Don’t preach the “..see, I told you!” message.

And then…do it again.  I take advice from Thomas Bonoma’s classic HBR article from 1986, “Marketing Subversives:”

“I found that under conditions of marketplace change, success depended heavily on the presence of marketing subversives in a company.  Subversive marketers undermined their organizations’ structures to implement new marketing practices….And no matter what higher management had decided to allocate to various marketing projects, the subversives found ways to work around the official budget.  They bootlegged the resources they needed to implement new, more appropriate marketing practices.”

The same can be said about innovation.

Are you feeling lonely as an “innovation champion?”  Forget it.  Get suited for subversion.