Founder & Chief Navigator at MileZero, collaborating with mid and large cap companies to use innovation to create growth and drive revenue.
In the 20+ years since The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen was published, an entire industry has grown up to support, advise and “fix” the big companies that are most likely to fall prey to disruptive startups. Yet the success of corporate innovation remains dismally low, and the pace of disruption has accelerated. Why? Have thousands of incredibly smart people been wrong for decades? Is it possible that no matter what you do, big companies actually can’t innovate and are destined to be disrupted? No. However, to date, our answers and efforts have been incomplete and, as a result, haven’t moved the needle
After decades of hands-on experience (and the scars to show it) as an innovator at Procter & Gamble, a close collaborator with executives at large companies as a partner at Clayton Christensen’s innovation consultancy, and now the founder of an innovation firm dedicated to practical innovation that gets results, I can tell you with absolute confidence that the innovation processes, systems and formulas written about and sold are necessary but insufficient for success.
Our current approach to innovation is insufficient because we are not robots. Even at work, we are humans. And, as humans, we decide with our hearts, justify with our heads and require guts to act. That’s why innovation success requires a head-heart-guts approach.
Speak to the head.
When innovation is treated as art or magic, there’s usually a lot of fun, a little bit of chaos and no ROI. That’s why innovation thinkers and practitioners have spent decades trying to break innovation down into learnable, repeatable and sustainable steps that produce predictable results.
The results of their work are books, articles and companies promising innovation strategies, frameworks, systems, processes, structures, metrics and governance that will drive growth. These tools appeal to our rational, logical, left-brained, business selves. And they can work. I’ve seen them produce short-term results. But I also know from experience that they rarely, if ever, create the lasting change and drive the long-term growth that companies need and decision-makers expect.
Appeal to the heart.
This isn’t about sending flowers and chocolates to decision-makers. It is about recognizing that decision-makers have aspirations, fears, past experiences, working relationships, emotions and all the other things that we, as humans, have.
To do this, innovators need to go beyond meetings and PowerPoints to build relationships with decision-makers. Talk to them. Spend time with them. Seek to understand them. Build empathy with them. Appeal to them as people, not just titles on an org chart.
Once innovators see and understand decision-makers as people, they can help decision-makers understand and embrace the why of innovation — why it’s important to the business and their careers, why it’s the right thing to do for their people and themselves, why it’s a smart risk worth taking, and most importantly, why there is something in it for them.
Give them guts.
We’ve all experienced fear at some point in our lives. We’ve all had moments where we knew it was safe to do something and we wanted to do it, but we just couldn’t make ourselves take action.
This moment happens all the time in innovation — a key decision-maker believes in a project, wants to do it and can logically justify it but, when the time comes to invest or pitch it to the C-Suite, they freeze. Suddenly, the project gets watered down, put on hold or completely canceled.
This is where guts come in. Instead of sending the most senior decision-maker into a meeting to advocate for a project, go in as a team. Instead of expecting the decision-maker to bear all the risk, innovators need to put skin in the game, too. Early in my career, we wanted to sell Swiffer WetJet on a television network but didn’t have the budget. I told the general manager that if he gave us the money we needed, I would either pay him back in full in three months or give him my resignation. He gave us the money we needed. Three months later, we gave him back 10 times that amount.
It takes courage to question that status quo and do something different. It’s never easy to be courageous, but it’s easier to be courageous if you have someone standing with you.