Lead Innovation Top Down and Outside-In

My partners and I recently spoke to the top innovation executive at a large US public company. He and his team struggle with the question that all organizations eventually confront – where to find the next wave of growth.

They find themselves in the early stages of building an innovation function. They know how to pounce on opportunities. They describe a mission that would be familiar to most practitioners. First, apply design methods to convert customer insights – pain points, unserved needs, emerging demand – into new sources of growth. Second, build a culture of innovation that spreads these capabilities across the organization.

Sounds good. But they sound tired. Why? In short: lots of pouncing; little planning.

Where there’s smoke there’s fire.

brush fire small

Ask yourself. Is it your job to fight fires or plant forests?

What have you been up to lately?

This innovation team, like most of our clients at the formation stage, tend to rush in wherever they smell smoke – product recalls, customer complaints, account defections, bad press. They do important and valuable work, no question. But it leaves them scrambling breathlessly amid the chaos of tactical priorities.

Are you fixing today’s business, or crafting tomorrow’s?

Do you find yourself putting out brush fires? Shouldn’t that be part of the bigger job? Preventing fires? Running controlled burn off? Planning and planting and cultivating healthy forests?

firewatchMost innovators don’t know where to start.

It’s hard to set priorities in the midst of a fire fight.

Step back from the flames. Let the air clear. Take a deep breath. Now – reimagine your efforts in a larger context.

If you want to see the forest, not just the trees, you need to get above the fray. You need to take it from the top.

&pyramid transparentLead Innovation top-down.

Consider a four-tier hierarchy to build innovation into your enterprise. This triangle describes the essential elements every successful innovation team must address. If you enjoy the luxury of just getting started, we recommend that you take it from the top-down, in a logical sequence.

It makes little sense to start to design without a strategy. It’s like starting to build anything without a blueprint – lots of going back to the drawing board.

Planning starts with a goal. Don’t jump to setting an innovation strategy without a clear growth agenda.

If your efforts are already underway, you’ll find it accelerates your progress to revisit your overarching mission. Go back to the start.

Quantify and qualify your business goals. Translate them into aspirations for growth. Translate that into your innovation requirements.

Get crystal clear and get aligned – from the managing board down to the floor boards. What do you want to achieve?

forest fireStep outside then move back in.

As you do this, fight the natural human urge to think inside-out.

Most organizations – most people – can’t help but place themselves as the center of the universe. It’s the same unintentional narcissistic instinct that causes us to gaze at our reflections. Natural, but not helpful. At least not yet. (I’ll describe how our self-obsession can pay off later, in an upcoming post).

But if you invite that self-centric bias into your strategy (where we go) it dictates what you will delivery (what we do).

That means you’re thinking of yourself first, your customer second. Your capabilities first, market needs second. Supply first. Demand second.

Bad. Worse. Worst.

Invert your priorities. Reverse that formula. If you want to control your own destiny, understand your place within it.

The essential people who determine your success, and your future, lurk outside, not within. Your customers, partners, legislators, regulators, government agencies, competitors and emerging innovators define your market, not you.

It’s not as easy as it sounds. It’s hard enough to see today’s threats. Harder still to foresee tomorrow’s. More on methods coming soon.

Don’t burn out. Don’t burn up.

It’s a combustable world out there. Know what you’re plunging into before you head out.

Take it from the top – know what you want. Then look around – know where you’re going – and what you’re up against.

Make better.

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