ZenStorming

Where Science Meets Muse

Finding and Grooming Innovators

Posted by Plish on November 25, 2008

Good article here from the Harvard Business Review.

In general, the article is right on.  I’ve personally (and unfortunately) seen much of what this article says must be done (or its lack thereof.)  I disagree, to some extent, with the section on giving innovators responsibility and the reward structure.  The argument is made that once innovators are found they should be given a chance – rewarded if they succeed and not given another chance if they fail. 

Since the article discusses “finding” innovators, I can see the rationale behind the need to give them a chance.  On the other hand, if a company has to “find” innovators, is it truly a company with an innovative culture, or a company that is efficient at keeping positive cash flow? I would argue there should be a difference. Perhaps not in the needed result but in orientation and execution.

In line with this is my dislike of the “one-strike-you’re-out” rule that most companies mentioned here seem to use.  By definition within the article, innovators are those who take risks.  A high risk project might fail- it’s what makes it high risk!  Having said that, risking once is relatively easy.  Risking twice or thrice after a former failure takes guts and courage.  The approach in this article cuts true innovators off at the knees. 

If somebody fails, (or as I prefer to say, “Increases his/her experiential database”, which coincidentally increases odds of future success!) analyze the situation, learn, cross-pollinate and keep moving forward!  What do I mean by cross-pollinate?

Any Innovator that is turned loose will innovate – new products, processes, systems, sub-systems will be developed in the course of any project.  Odds are HUGE that something developed during a “failure” can and will be used somewhere else in the company and perhaps with even greater payback than the original project had! That person should be rewarded not barred from future attempts.

What are your thoughts?

ARTICLE EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Sustaining innovation, many agree, is crucial for a company’s long-term success. But truly innovative people are rare: They have excellent analytic skills, never rest on their laurels, and can identify the solutions likeliest to win over top leadership. They are socially savvy and can bring a diverse group of constituents into alignment. They tend to be both charming and persuasive.

The right talent-management procedures can help in spotting potential innovators. Reuters, for example, interviews candidates one-on-one and gives them complex, real-world scenarios in which they must reach and defend decisions, accommodate new information, and convincingly sell their point of view. Starwood and McDonald’s require would-be innovators to lead cross-functional teams in developing promising ideas and then to present those ideas to senior management. One global industrial products company in the UK insists that they do a stint in the sales department.

Developing breakthrough innovators requires mentoring and peer networks. Mentors provide insight into the motivations, goals, mind-set, and budget constraints of managers in a variety of relevant functions. At Allstate, for example, the CEO coaches and supports the mentors themselves, sending a strong signal about the importance of the program. Peer networks provide a sense of solidarity and a uniquely fertile environment in which to exchange ideas, impart information, and instill hope.

Companies that excel in developing innovative leaders often remove them from revenue-generating line positions and plant them in the middle of the organization, where they form “innovation hubs,” with easy access to influentials, more autonomy, and broader job responsibilities.

Practices like these keep companies open to new ideas and prepare them to respond nimbly to innovation from elsewhere in their industries.

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