Spring Housecleaning for Your Innovation Management Practice

Doug Collins - Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Altar Guild

My mom was a member of the altar guild. The altar guild at our church consisted of a small group of capable ladies who, each weekend, would dedicate themselves to preparing the altar linens, flowers, and sacrament for Sunday service.

I am sure, too, they did more—a lot more—than what I can recall from my childhood.

As a result of my mom’s service, I became, by way of the curious action of knowledge transfer through familial osmosis, familiar with the church calendar. I learned, for example, that the Christmas season extends deep into January, long after the neighbors had taken down their lights and put their trees on the curb for trash. 

Chocolate versus Carrots

I am reminded again of this calendar this spring, as we move from the Lenten to the Easter season.

For me, Lent as a child was a time of seemingly drastic, life-altering choices. Do I give up chocolate? Television? My bike? Carrots?

As a child, my mind dwelt on what was to be lost by my sacrifice. As I got older, I began to reflect on what I gained.

What do I remove from my life that keeps me from realizing my full potential? 

It’s a big question. The status quo is a wily foe. Time is on its side.

Collaborative Innovation

I see parallels between this thread—the church calendar, the Lenten season, the time of conscious sacrifice—end the practice of collaborative innovation.

I reflect specifically on the question, What gets in the way of realizing our potential as innovators?

How might we, as an experiment to start, remove the roadblocks from our lives so that we can see what happens? Lent, by comparison, lasts a couple weeks, only. The experiment need not persist.

The first thought that comes to mind are all the reasons—real, manufactured, or otherwise—that keep us from spending time with our clients and customers. Time and again, I find that the productive path—the path to collective sanity for the organization—lay in engaging directly with the customer. They know a lot and, if we enjoy a good relationship with them, can tell us so much about what really ails them.

Where does it hurt, Ms. Customer?

It is then up to us, through methods such as Jobs to Be Done, to translate those needs as pains into an answer or a solution.

Executive Advisory Board Follies

I admit my own, real shortcomings on this front.

Years ago, I managed the executive advisory board for a technology company wrestling with how to transform itself for the Digital Age. An executive advisory board consists of a small number of a firm’s most important clients: importance as a function of projected revenue, influence, or some combination of the two. Board members—senior leaders of the client organizations—commit to helping the vendor develop a more compelling future together through joint planning and shared experience. (Tip: the latter turns out to be 10X more important than the former in running a successful board.)

Our particular board got off to a good start. We had the right people from the right clients talking about the right things. We left our PowerPoints at home, making space for authentic dialogue.

The clients began to gain confidence that we would and could deliver on their guidance. Doors began to open. The clients offered first as a courtesy and then in earnest the opportunity for us to tour their facilities and more deeply understand their core business processes.

With the wisdom of hindsight, I find that while I did pursue the client visits on behalf of the firm, I did not pursue enough of them—or involve enough stakeholders in making meaning of what we learned.

Why? A board run at this level has a substantial overhead tied to it: member selection, programming, logistics, budget, etc.

In retrospect, I find I spent too much time tending to the mechanics of the program and not enough time pursuing the opportunities that the proper execution of the board opened to us.

That is, I allowed too much of the tactical to get in the way of the truly meaningful aspect of the work: the direct work with the clients which the executive advisory board opened.

The Human Condition

It is, I believe, very much part of the human condition to let the day-to-day obscure our view of our goals—goals that, when we achieve them, enable us to realize our full potential. I am as guilty as the next person of letting it happen.

Some communities bake into their practice time for reflection on priorities: the Lenten season, for example.

Whether or not yours does, it would seem good practice to bake into your own time—your seasons—a time when you remove the things that create the most noise in your life.

Let them go.

What do you hear?

Maybe in this context you hear the faint voice of the customer expressing their needs and telling you something you did not know or did not appreciate or did not comprehend.

What, then, happens were you to act upon your new-found perspective? Where does doing so take you?

Self sacrifice is not self-inflicted punishment if the self sacrifice reveals new doors for us to open. By comparison, to claim to be perpetually busy is to impress ourselves into indentured servitude to the here and now, with no end date. The best practices challenge us to avoid this trap.

How might you this spring incorporate a period of house cleaning and inventory taking into your own practice of collaborative innovation?

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