Launching Innovations and Protecting the Teams

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Working with business leaders on adopting innovations, the two biggest challenges that people have are helping:

  • individuals channel and develop their interests into profitable and innovative businesses 
  • the innovation team survive the challenges of launching the product in a company in which the culture is designed to protect and reinforce the status quo.

One way to take ideas and turn them into profitable, innovative businesses is to apply some or all of the seven principles that Daniel Burrus, in Flash Foresight, discusses. These problem solving triggers are:

  • Start with certainty. Use hard trends (economic, technological, demographic) to see what’s coming, but don’t accept soft trends – the behaviors that people make that can be changed. (E.g., Malthus saw the hard trend – a fast growing population – but mistakenly assumed that we’d therefore run out of food, by not anticipating technological changes in people’s agriculture processes.) 
  • Anticipate. Base your strategies on what you know about the future.
  • Transform. Change is not enough; transform the situation. (E.g., Apple’s introduction of iPods and iTunes transformed the music, entertainment and the mobile computer industry)
  • Skip your biggest problem. We often get stuck on what we think is the problem, when in fact it’s By eliminating the obstacle, you get to identify a solution to the real problem.
  • Go opposite. If everyone is looking at something one way and not getting an answer, do what no-one else is doing.
  • Redefine and reinvent. Identify what really makes you unique and leverage it in powerful ways.
  • Direct your future. If you don’t take charge, you will be following someone else’s direction.

Once the innovation process has been launched, it needs to be protected.  When a company believes it is running its business correctly, it will resist change and undermine the innovation team. For this reason some companies create “skunk-works” – putting the team in a different location with a protected budget so the idea can incubate. An additional key element for success is a strong leader who will protect the group against the natural forces that might stop them.  Greg Satell, the author of Cascades and publishes a blog called Innovation Excellence, recognizes that it’s not enough to drive change, you also have to survive victory, especially if the change is transformative. This means working with the team and outside forces:

  • Build shared purpose and shared consciousness among team members
  • Align stakeholders to support the team’s effort
  • Develop a plan to ensure long-term victory once the innovation process starts. Remember, the initial product will be imperfect; people will identify the warts and use that as a basis for attaching the project as a while. The leader’s job is to sustain support the team while the innovation evolves, until it has its running legs.

What are your biggest challenges in launching innovations and “incubating” the project? Share them with us, so we can share best-practices in these areas.