Kill Your Innovation Champion

by | Apr 5, 2010 | Evaluation Ideas, Google, Innovation Method | 0 comments

Here are five things companies need to do to develop the organizational structure, culture, and incentives to encourage successful innovation:

1. Kill Your Innovation Champion: It seems like a great idea to establish an “innovation champion” – responsible and accountable for driving innovation within the organization. In reality, it stifles innovation. Assigning a champion lets everyone off the hook. Why innovate when we have our “champion” to do it ? A study by the Association of Innovation Managers found that when companies assign innovation champions and establish separate funding, it threatens the R&D and the commercial departments. “This kind of sponsorship opens the door for subtle forms of sabotage if the established business units believe that the innovation funding is inhibiting their ability to accomplish short-term objectives and take care of current customers. Without involvement, the commercial arm of an organization can also claim no responsibility for success or be blamed for failure.” Instead of relying champions, a better approach is to encourage “innovation

If you won’t kill your champion, no worry – they will go away on their own. The study also looked at what puts innovation managers at risk. 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.

2. Don’t Give Credit for Good Ideas: Tanya Menon from the University of Chicago describes the paradox of an external idea being viewed as “tempting” while the exact same idea, coming from an internal source, is considered “tainted.”

“In a business era that celebrates anything creative, novel, or that demonstrates leadership, “borrowing” or “copying” knowledge from internal colleagues is often not a career-enhancing strategy. Employees may rightly fear that acknowledging the superiority of an internal rival’s ideas would display deference and undermine their own status.

By contrast, the act of incorporating ideas from outside firms is not seen as merely copying, but rather as vigilance, benchmarking, and stealing the thunder of a competitor. An external threat inflames fears about group survival, but does not elicit direct and personal threats to one’s competence or organizational status. As a result, learning from an outside competitor can be much less psychologically painful than learning from a colleague who is a direct rival for promotions and other rewards.”

3. Fire the Lone Innovator: Innovation is a team sport. Keith Sawyer in his book, Group Genius highlights one of the most significant aspects of successful innovation – that groups of people are likely to be more creative than individuals working on their own. A properly facilitated approach with a carefully selected “dream team” of employees yields innovation sooner, better, and bolder than the lone genius.

4. Teach Innovation: Innovation is a skill, not a gift. It can be taught using structured innovation processes and templates. Many universities offer courses and programs to learn innovation. It is unacceptable that a corporation seeking growth through innovation would not have its employees properly trained in the skill of innovating.

5. Build Innovation Muscle: The best companies see innovation as an ongoing capability, not a one time event. These companies work hard to build muscle around this capability so they can deploy it when they need it, where they need it, tackling their hardest problems. Companies do this to keep up with the ever changing landscape both inside and outside the firm. What does it mean to build innovation muscle? I think of it as the number of people trained, the frequency of using an innovation method, and the percentage of internal departments that have an innovation capability. Call it an Innovation Muscle Index: N (number of trained employees) x F (number of formal ideation events per year using a method) x P (percent of company departments with at least one employee trained in an effective innovation method). Innovation Muscle Index = N x F x P .