Daily Archives: March 30, 2012

Relentless Innovation, A Review: Part III: All Hail the Middle Manager!

In Part I, we began our review of Jeffrey Phillips‘, VP Marketing of OVO Innovation, recently published book on Relentless Innovation — a guide for transforming your organization from one that innovates occasionally, at best, to one that innovates constantly — by reviewing some astutely pointed out innovation myths, the biggest barriers to innovation in an average organization, and the problems with the average organization today. Then, in Part II, we discussed what a relentless innovator is and some of the characteristics that define a relentless innovator — characteristics any organization that wants to be a relentless innovator is going to adopt.

Today, we are going to provide the roadmap for an organization that wants to be a relentless innovator.

Step 1: All Hail The Middle Manager

I know that it’s probably sending shivers up and down your spine, as it did mine the first time I got the message, but the reality is that while a middle manager can be the biggest barrier to innovation, she can also be the biggest instigator of innovation. A middle manager who is:

  • comfortable with change and uncertainty
  • full of foresight (with the understanding that an unmet need is an opportunity)
  • thorough and well-prepared
  • participative
  • endowed with persuasiveness, persistence, and discretion

can be the biggest asset an organization has where innovation is concerned. Such a middle manager who is driven to innovate will drive that commitment and vision through the ranks and help make innovation-as-usual part of the modus operandi of the organization.

Step 2: Balance Efficiency and Innovation

Since not all innovation efforts will pay off in the near term, and since the vast majority will not pay off in the quarter (or current fiscal year), the organization needs to balance efficiency — which defines the revenue generation activities off of the current products and services — with innovation and give each the appropriate weight and focus so that the organization thrives today and tomorrow. How does an organization achieve this balance?

Start with a focus on innovation at the top; embrace the proper tools, techniques, and methodologies — broadly; consider innovation as a (future) revenue opportunity; become more “plastic” (open, flexible, and nimble); adopt a rapid experimentation methodology; remember that patience is necessary; and have a Cortes Moment — scuttle your ships and leave your conquistadors no option but to move ahead with innovation.

According to Mr. Phillips — that’s it. And if the organization does it right, everything changes. Innovation tools and techniques are deployed across the organization and brought to bear on new challenges first, not last. Managers expect and anticipate innovation. The organization stops fighting fires and starts lighting fires under the competition with new, innovative, product and services the competition did not expect. Middle managers are the biggest assets. And the firm achieves an “innovation flow”.