How can you increase your odds of success, and make an impact as an innovation champion in your organization? This article offers six important insights that will help you to build the style differences of managers and leaders into your innovation plans and initiatives.

Between 20 and 25 years ago, there was a surge of “innovation” or “creativity” initiatives started in many Fortune 500 companies. Nearly all of these were abandoned between 1990 and 1995 and several publications and presentations have been made on a pioneering study made of 20 of these programs. Individuals who led these programs left to work with new venture startups or went into the consulting business.

Major corporations, disillusioned with the impact of these programs, abandoned them and refocused on their “core” businesses as well as on major cost and efficiency programs such as Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing, After ten years of this, it is now apparent to most major corporations that income and profit growth goals cannot be achieved without revisiting the need to develop new businesses, identify new customers, and develop new technology. As these efforts become apparent, companies are once again asking individuals to take on risky new assignments in “new to the organization” activities.

If you are one of these people, will you survive any better than the first group of pioneers? The odds are good if you recognize what’s changed in the business world around you “the second time around”, as well as what is probably different about you and those with whom you are going to interact. First of all, no matter what the magnitude of the innovation program being proposed or implemented, it is being done against the background of an on-going business and a managerial background whose temperament, as measured by social style measurements (such as Myers Briggs) or by problem solving style measurements (such as the Kirton KAI) is likely to be quite different than yours. The fact that you are different in these types of style assessments is one of the reasons you have been selected. However, those who chose you do not understand the practical impact of these differences. It is important that you do so that the innovation effort can succeed and that you will survive personally.

Based on the differences in corporate focus, as well as what we learned about style differences in the study of failed corporate innovation programs, here is a list of suggestions:

  1. Recognize that your social style is most likely to be “N” (intuitive) vs. the “S” (sensing”) which characterizes over 80% of corporate management. You will be very comfortable with vague, broadly shaped exciting opportunities without necessarily being specific about sales and profit dollars and timing. Those who are funding your effort, as excited as they may be about new stuff, will quickly want to know who is going to buy the new stuff, when they will start buying, what it will compete with, how much the plant will cost, and when it can start producing. As you progress in this role, follow one of the well established quality rules and know what your customer wants— and frame your “gut feels” into hard data. If you need help to do this, get it!
  2. Recognize that your “problem solving” style is likely to be much more unstructured and not obvious to those around you, especially those in corporate management. This is your problem to deal with, not theirs. They are the ones who will have to commit large sums of money at risk and it is important for you to recognize this. Our experience in this area is that a gap of 15-20 in a KAI score is sufficient to cause dissension in problem solving and communication. The study of the failed corporate innovation programs showed that it is likely that the difference between your KAI profile and that of corporate management around you is closer to 35-45 points, setting up a potentially significant communication gap in the area of technical opportunity definition and the perceived need for hard data and analysis, group focus, etc. Again, this is your problem to deal with. Clearly explain how your data and information supports your ideas and conclusions, focus your meeting and communication processes. Again, if you need help to do this, find an adaptive KAI person and gain their insights. Study what these differences imply and use these differences pro-actively.
  3. Be flexible in evaluating possibilities and options and help those around you do this as well. As opposed to the last generation of innovation efforts, the large scale of most significant new business opportunities and the focus of most large organizations on their “core competencies” argue for flexible commercial strategies including in-licensing, out-licensing, joint ventures, temporary collaboration, and global manufacturing options. Help those around you see all the possibilities out there, before large amounts of money are committed.
  4. Use both inside-out and outside-in thinking and help those around you see the value in both. Though the days of “here’s what I have or can make, now go sell it” are long gone, it is important to have external driving forces and current customer input balanced by considering what opportunities exist to expand the commercial impact of existing core competencies as well as talking with potential customers who might replace your current customers. There may need to be some tact and diplomacy needed here, but it is imperative that these externally generated imperatives do not come solely from short term product improvement needs.
  5. Look outside for technology, not only within universities and start-up companies, but also within parallel universes of technology which may be facing the same kind of general problems but are not direct competitors. This effort needs to include overseas technology as well. Make sure that there are no “egos” when it comes to assessing the best way to meet a customer need.
  6. Use state of the art tools for problem solving and communication. These include not only the TRIZ process, but also knowledge management and patent assessments and communication tools that did not exist the last time around (remember it was 25 years ago!) including web conferencing, instant messaging, etc.

Jack Hipple is Principal in Innovation-TRIZ, Inc., a consulting company specializing in unique approaches to TRIZ training, the application of TRIZ to non-technical and organizational problems, and the integration of TRIZ with other innovation and creativity tools.