The Future Of Innovation ... Is A Lonely Road

Mr Rolf C. Smith

I have been involved in “innovation” as a career (profession?) continuously since 1986 – i.e., as the only thing I do. While a Colonel on active duty, I was responsible for developing and implementing a corporate strategy for innovation for Air Force Intelligence. This included establishing the first military Office of Innovation and a network of Innovation Centers worldwide at operational unit level. Since then I have worked extensively with Fortune 10, 100 and 500 companies on “innovation” and for 20+ years we have run more than 50 week-long School for Innovators to develop in-house innovation champions and facilitator.

Insight #1: Top leadership and R&D perhaps “know” that they need innovation to grow but very seldom does the rest of an organization understand that. By their nature, organizations operate largely (70% of the time) in maintenance mode – keeping the business keeping on in ways that have proven successful. If pushed strategically by top leadership, the larger organization seldom has a specific idea of how or where to innovate – although conceptually senior leadership considers creative innovation important if not critical. Further, the sponsorship for “innovation” tends to be narrow at best - one or two senior managers is too shallow to have staying power.

Insight #2: Formal organizational innovation structures (Innovation Centers, Offices of Innovation, Managers of Innovation, Innovation Initiatives, and Innovation Strategies, etc.) have repeatedly proven to be short-lived and built around a cult of one. A strong innovator with a vision of innovation in the organization manages to start something organizationally innovative; it thrives and survives until the innovator leaves or retires… and without strong selective succession planning, an innovation initiative then atrophies.

Insight #3: Innovation is a corporate process. All functions must buy into and be involved in an innovation strategy or initiative. “Innovation” must become a corporate value that everyone truly lives.

Insight #4: Over 20+ years, personality type and creative thinking style have proven to be a major factor in “innovation”. Innovation champions – corporate and military alike – tend to be strong intuitives, NT (Myers Briggs Type Indicator – MBTI); managers in contrast tend to be sensors - STJ (80% or more). Intuitives and sensors view the world very differently. Sensors are typically most comfortable with continuous change and very uncomfortable with discontinuous change. The Kirton Adaption-Innovation (KAI) profile reveals even more dramatic differences: It describes a typical innovation champion as someone who is very comfortable with substantive change, who operates to a significant degree on intuition, and is not likely to check with authority before taking action that he believes is right. Since innovation champions are trying to initiate change – and frequently discontinuous change - differences about perceived acceptable and desirable degrees of change can have significant impact on their efforts.

Insight #5: Lonely is the road of the innovator – and so it will remain. “Innovation” is the realm of a relatively small number of people - statistically less than 4% of those in normal organization. They are the intuitives and the out-of-the-box thinkers and doers.

Article © 2009 Mr Rolf C. Smith. All rights reserved.

about the author...

Mr Rolf C. Smith

Mr Rolf C. Smith

affiliation:   The School For Innovators

position:  Managing Director

country:  United States

area of interest:  Leadership & Innovation, Discontinuous Innovation Thinking Expeditions.

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