If innovation is the new game of business for the 21st Century, what are the rules?
Some of you are being asked to voluntarily join innovation design teams. Others are being asked to leave the relative security of your overworked position to go work on something that is unstructured, unfamiliar, and, well, risky. It’s your company’s innovation initiative.
Should you throw your hat in the ring (and your career on the line) and say, “count me in.” Or should you say, “no thanks, find somebody else” and conceivably throw away your best chance to get promoted, gain stature, and possibly have the time of your life.
Consider these guidelines:
- Don’t say yes till you know who the other players are going to be. Do you trust these people? Can they execute?
- Don’t say yes if it’s not going to be a cross-functional team. (It has very little chance of success.)
- Don’t say yes if you don’t believe your CEO has a clue as to what innovation is all about and is merely doing this because it’s in vogue right now.
- Don’t say yes if you clash with anyone who’s going to be on the team. There will be tough patches on the road to successful implementation and you don’t want to start out this way.
- Do say yes if in meeting with your boss you believe the commitment is genuine, and there is senior management support.
- Do say yes if you believe you can contribute successfully, love a big hairy audacious goal, (or B.H.A.G. according to Good to Great author James Collins), and the spirit of risk-taking runs in your bloodstream.
- Do say yes if there are at least a few maverick thinkings on the team that will shepherd the project.
- Do say yes if you like what you hear when you ask the question, “what will happen if this project is a success?”
- Say no if you can’t stand the consequences when you ask, “what will happen to me if this project is a complete failure?”
- Do say yes if the rewards of your diving in and participating appear to be worth it.
In addition, remember these things in making your decision:
- Ask for, as a pre-condition to volunteering, CEO and senior management support. Spell this out in various memos so that everyone is enrolled and there is no fudging who’s on board or not on board.
- Can you take pushback? you (and your team) are inevitably going to be criticized for trying to introduce changes, especially best practices around innovation. As they say, “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
- Be prepared to sell your design ideas to a senior team and an organization that is overworked, stressed, receiving 200 emails a day and attending back-to-back meetings. What you say may make perfect sense, but deep down they wonder, “will this only add to my workload if we do it?”
- Be sure the important ducks are in order before you launch an idea, but don’t wait for the whole flock to get in formation because you’ll never fly.
- Remember you don’t have to take the full risk all at once. Look for ways to apportion your “go” decisions to stages, such that if certain commitments are not being met, you agree in advance that you will halt the project and return to what you were doing before?
- Never assume all the risk yourself. Find allies and mentors and fans to join your parade. If you can’t, don’t proceed. It’s just that simple.
- Work on your persuasion skills. Take a course in effective techniques continuously.
- Never allow yourself to be hung out to dry, while others hide behind “I was never in support of this project in the first place.” Get key people to sign up on the dotted line, declare their commitment, and join in.
- Build coalitions in support of your project/approach. Think of yourself as a lobbyist for a worthy and honorable cause. You may not have position power but you can make your case and ask for support. If you can’t get traction, there’s something wrong. Find out what it is, fas, and make changes in your approach.
- Timing really is everything. Understand it by observing it in everything from stand-up comedy routines to budget cycles to successful product launches.