Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Don’t invest in ideas, invest in people with ideas 25 – bringing innovators into a business and keeping them there 8

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on September 20, 2016

This is my 25th installment in a series on cultivating and supporting innovation and its potential in a business, by cultivating and supporting the creative and innovative potential and the innovative drive of your employees and managers, and throughout your organization (see HR and Personnel – 2, postings 215 and loosely following for Parts 1-24.)

I began in Part 24 to more fully discuss the issues of who to look for in potential new hires, when looking for people with real innovative potential. And I raised the issues of how to look for them, vet and select them and bring them onboard, as full-time employees in your business. As a key element to all of that and as the core specific focus point to that installment, I explicitly discussed at least some of the issues that arise when making a business receptive to, and supportive of innovation and the change it creates, and to the innovators who create it.

• Businesses need to be prepared to support innovation with all of its risks and all of its challenges to their routine-and-standard, if innovation is to succeed there.
• Innovation can lead to significant and even tremendous rewards when everything works out for the good. But not all attempts at innovation succeed or even can, and even when initial innovation concepts that would underlie them sound to be very worthwhile pursuing, and even when initial prototype implementations of them seem to work out – with “just some tweaks needed” to make them practical and cost effective, and in ways that can be scaled up. Some innovative development initiatives will always turn into write-offs and losses.
• Really effective systems for fostering innovative potential and for bringing its fruits into profitable, effective realization cannot make that basic fact disappear. But they can and do help make innovative efforts that could succeed, do so and as smoothly and efficiently as possible. But let’s further consider this risk and its obviously apparent downside.
• Make the level of risk and the potential for loss that innovation brings with it, into a strength. That becomes a real possibility when a business can in effect capture more of the innovative potential of their industry and sector and more of the innovation accepting potential in their markets, than their competition can, because their competitors are less effectively capable of finding and supporting the positive potential in innovation that is available to them, and because they are too risk-aversive to attempt doing so.
• This begins with finding and bringing in the right people, and onboarding and working with them in ways that support and encourage their reaching their full innovative potential.
• I have returned here in these opening notes to once again consider the issues of making a business ready for innovation and for innovators. And I finish this orienting portion of this posting by noting how the points that I have just made, reconcile with my ongoing recommendations of always seeking to make a business as effective, agile and resilient as possible. Over a shorter and even mid-term timeframe that might come across as meaning that a business should find and adhere to some single overarching set of best practices that as a primary goal would shift its risk/benefits balance in place, as strongly as possible towards here-and-now realizable benefits. But this also means approaching risk differently from a longer-term perspective. Innovation, of necessity means increased risks, and increases there that are going to be less easy to anticipate in detail, than would adherence to some single more-tried and true approach. Finding a good working balance here, creates opportunity for the type of capacity to innovate as a strength, that I just wrote of above.
• And with these notes regarding organizational capacity to support innovation in place, I move on in this discussion to reconsider the innovation taxonomy and how best to find and secure the right people for this effort.

I have recurringly in this blog, discussed direct hands-on innovators and a cast of supporting characters who would help them, and support the diffusion of their success into the business as a whole. And in that regard, I refer you to the references that I offered in Part 24 of this series, and to the innovation-supportive management approach that I offered in my series: Keeping Innovation Fresh, as a case in point example of how this can be organized (see Business Strategy and Operations – 2, postings 241 and following for that series’ Parts 1-16.) And as I stated at the end of Part 24, I would continue its discussion of the Who of innovation in a business by introducing one more participant type to this mutually supported group: innovation instigators.

Jon Gertner, writing about Bell Labs, offered information and insight into John R. Pierce and his career and accomplishments there (see book recommendation as offered in Part 24.) Pierce was himself an active hands-on innovator, but perhaps more than that he was an active hands-on listener and observer who always looked for new and unexpected ways to advance and develop the innovative and more generally creative efforts of others. And he was a very effective communicator in this too, consummately able to bring others to see further into their own insights and into those of their fellow colleagues there too. And as this title implies, he was very good at instigating others to follow through on these new possibilities and both in their own immediate work and collaboratively with others. He listened and saw and shared insight into what was going on around him and into its potential for next steps going forward from it. He was skilled at engaging others in this and in bringing them to work on and realize the sometimes significantly fuller potential that he saw in their work.

Gertner used the term “instigator” as a specific label for one particular individual, at least in the context of his Bell Labs book and this part of it. I think back on some of the people who I have had the privilege to work with and see Pierce as more of a sterling example of a more categorical type: one of the potential roles and one of the potential types of innovation-supportive and enabling professionals that a business that seeks to innovate, can strive to find, bring onboard, foster and develop and encourage – and ultimately gain tremendously from.

A good, and even a great innovation instigator here need not necessarily be a good innovator themselves, who can actively long-term follow through on and develop initial insights into more polished form that developers can take off from in turning initial innovation into realized products or services. But a good instigator here can and does start these processes, bringing hands-on innovators to think through and work through the next-step details and the details of the steps that follow after them.

I am not writing about lone innovators here who do everything, thought they can be found too. I am writing about developing a culture and climate of innovative excellence, where good ideas with potential can be mined and developed and brought to fruition. And to shamelessly steal a name for this from the realm of raising children in supportive social and community systems, I would rephrase this as “organized business innovation, and certainly as an ongoing productive effort, takes a village.”

And this finally leads me to that last part of this to-address list: an area of discussion that I have been noting in anticipation as coming up, through much of this series to date. How can you better and more effectively find the right people here? As I said at the end of Part 24, you need to know who to look for by type and quality and how they would fit into your business – as an at least first-cut understanding of what you seek to build in-house, before you can meaningfully conduct a search for best possible candidates for those various roles, and either by more traditional means or through new and still emerging channels such as social media. I will explicitly discuss that complex of issues in my next series installment. Then after delving into that and in at least some depth, I will address the issue of bringing current employees and managers on-board with change, as a business pivots towards being more innovative – and even in its basic business processes where that would create greater business flexibility and competitive strength. That means a lot more than simply working to bring current “business as usual” employees to be more accepting of innovators around them. It means their coming to see opportunity and value in bringing the fruits of innovation into what they do, and it means giving them opportunity to more actively participate in this as innovators in their own right too.

I will begin all of that at the top of my next series installment. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and also at Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.


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