Frustration. Irritation. Twenty-five grand. Blowing a hundred grand. Two hundred. A million or three. Have you, your firm tossed this kind of cash at innovation? Classes. Training. Workshops. Books. Articles. It just never ends. The worst part? Nothing changes but your bank account and your time lost trying. It’s like folks seek a magic bullet, something to show the analysts or to simply engage the staff. Yet for the most part nothing changes. Innovation it seems is the most bastardized, abused word of the century. We all want it, to know how to do it, to transform our companies, our lives or at least create one winning product or solve one major crisis. What’s the deal? Why doesn’t it work? I’ve spoken to hundreds wanting success, wanting affect and it seems so many have had enough. The fact is most of these programs succeed at nothing but enriching consultants, from sole proprietors to the big boys. It’s not that these folks do not for the most part want to help – it’s simply that they cannot and likely never will. Here are the reasons why and indeed what you should look for in a great innovation offering… They’ve never truly innovated anything All too often, especially at the more granular level below simple strategy, most consultants, especially the smaller firms and indeed many of the brand or design firms actually have not innovated. You ask the products created, the sales, the incumbents destroyed, reduced and the economic impact and you get a blank stare, obfuscation and or utterly put of context information. No one cares about anything but the line, the impact and if these folks cannot prove it, demonstrate it, display it, then why did you talk to them to begin with? One must ask these very simple, upfront questions:
  • How much in annual sales have you generated for clients?
  • What margins and market share relative to the before?
  • What specific products have you launched commercially and quantifiably?
  • What specific role did you play in these efforts?
  • What were your historic roles? P&L? Marketing? R&D?
If innovation folks cannot answer these questions deeply, specifically, with public reference, walk away. It’s that simple. FYI – cool branding, cool product design is not generally innovation. It’s branding and product design. Design a whole new way to design and use a wheelchair that transforms how folks are moved and get around – great. Show me. Innovation is not an improved hamburger combination, quadruple stuff Oreos or a pizza box keeping your pizza a bit warmer longer. Real innovation is about transformation. Eliminating the need for lubricants, cutting the cost of production in half, the cost of a product by 80%, curing cancer. It’s not tweaks, twists or simple pivots. Its big stuff. Have they done anything truly transformational? So, the real question noted above is about impact, accomplishment, but for something more than the incremental. Its about big stuff. It’s about the struggle to get there, the story, the validation. Those consultants – all of them – must have had a profound impact and done what most considered impossible and at great speed and at a cost inversely proportional to the risk through time. These folks had better done this not with Brownian motion but rather with we call in Adaptive Innovation some real context. Context should be about the world the client operates in as well as that of their customer and the myriad trends that might have an impact. By example, in chemicals and materials it’s all about no energy (no heat), no solvent, speed and costs. Derivatives might include roadblocks to new product classes or generations such as enabling quantum computing, chip stacking conventionally, automotive light weighting and higher speed food and product packaging lines. Resource impacts could be loss of petroleum (maybe), bio-based and atmospherically derived raw materials like CO, CO2 and methane. Then there’s design and materials choices – by eliminating heat suddenly many more materials become options and therefor design as well. There’s politics, regulation. You get the picture. If your consultants have no idea what this is in the further context of your business, your products and your customer, again – walk away. The impact is just not likely to ever come. They claim we train your organization so that anyone can innovate These folks are the most dangerous. It’s just a lie. Sad fact is we all can’t be star baseball players like Giancarlo Stanton or great musicians like Eric Clapton. We also are not all made to be great innovators. Accordingly think you can train them is an absurdity. Those innovation degree programs? Cruel jokes. Certifications? Sad. It’s accomplishments that prove who you are. Not a piece of paper that cost you tens of thousands or companies hundreds of thousands to millions. Rather, it’s about uncovering those capable of contributing in varied ways led by those who are the true innovators capable of all noted earlier and validated by multiple examples. The great innovation folks understand this and help you to develop capabilities versus a one size fits all training program. They recommend things like putting together small multi disciplinary teams starting at the top where folks rotate in and out as management deems necessary discovering what folks are good and not and placing them and their roles where the fit makes the most sense through time. They start engagements at $100,000 and above There is absolutely no reason to spend this much cash at a singular moment at the start with virtually nothing known. It’s our view that cash spent should be inversely proportional to the risk. A great consultant should indeed offer some free time, under NDA, to provide that initial help, guidance that first leaves the client better off but even more validates their approach and capabilities within your organization’s and customer’s context. Bottom line – start free, have a 30-day exit at any time, stage the investment, no abstract training Forget abstract training – Do something real Training and workshops grounded in the academic provide no direct experience or immediate value, satisfaction and impact. They are often disconnected and have no tactile value. It’s our view that from day one, we are there to learn your world, your business, your role and what success looks like. This often gleans a few key challenges, hopes, dreams and a few nightmares that you’d like to see solved to not only help you personally but maybe garner that reputation and associated promotion. It’s here that we find that first project, that first focus to get exposed to our methodology as well as the myriad of innovation tools to choose from in the context of a real application. That’s where real learning occurs. It’s their process that’s the cure – Not! Whether today Lean Startup or Innovation Engineering, to many try and put forth the magic process. Follow these 8 easy steps using our proprietary tools and viola, you’ll get rich, you’ll win and transform the world! That’s also an absurdity. Everyone is unique, every group, every company as well as how they relate to customers and their supply chain. Accordingly, there is no magic process. Instead there are projects and opportunities and groups that change dynamically from a personnel standpoint, whether from its two different pairs to a twenty. So then with all of this uniqueness, how can there be a single, common process that’s so granular it often tales 500 pages of guidance and two years of training? Stage Gate? Good luck with that producing breakthroughs at all, let alone in a timely manner. You want to try a Shakespearean monkey experiment on your own firm? Go ahead. I’m not. Stage Gate is a giant excuse process making you think you’re in control. You’re not unless you embrace the iterative, complex, holistic chaos that innovation often is. Instead it’s principles of approach that matter and as noted, powerful context. After that, pick tools that work for your self and your unique team at a given moment. Those principles? It’s your cultural guide, how you deal with and what you deliver to stakeholders and information and decision, from customers to suppliers to board members and staff. Consultants that play you with in depth processes and checklists are never going to deliver breakthroughs. They instead will deliver bills and headaches. Do they get down and dirty? We talked about principles versus process, actually innovating versus studying it, doing real stuff versus journal stuff and cost being inversely proportional to risk. Now the last one for now…can these folks actually do innovation work? Will they get in the lab, on the plant floor, use the product, build prototypes? Do they have any creative skills that go with blood, sweat scratches, burns and dirt? If their world is limited to every idea is a good idea, a ton of post it notes, brokered ideation and process mapping, you’ve got the wrong people. For sure. You want doers, well connected folks who know they do not know everything and have the connections to help everyone know what they know that they do not even know that they do not know. These are the folks who want to learn first about you and your firm and your suppliers and customers and get in the sand box with you to do what you do. If they don’t, won’t or cannot do all of the latter, get away, far away. Final Thoughts I could add a dozen other factors but the bottom line is that if you follow the above, you’ll likely get the unmentioned rest. This is how we think having been on both sides of the fence, producing massive, transformational breakthroughs and having worked with clients to do the same – to do what they thought was impossible. I hope this leaves you off a bit the wiser or at least more critical of who you hire or put into an innovation role. Be well! Have a great Holiday Season and a terrific soon to be 2018.  

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