This is the first in a series of articles that take the need of Innovation under the loop and share some of the imperatives, must have’s if you will, to create and sustain “NEW” in business or organizations. The material is based on 25 years of hands on experience in the innovation space and the recently published book “Robert’s rule of innovation”.

Innovation is the key to your company’s survival. It is an imperative and it must be an integral part of your organization. Innovation — it must be encoded in your corporate DNA.

This is true no matter the size of your organization. No matter what business you’re in or what product or service you provide. More so today than ever before, Innovation must be the holistic strategy that savvy leaders create, that flourishes in the right atmosphere (and founders in the wrong environment).

…it has become more important than ever for business leaders to institute Innovation programs, and MANAGE them effectively.

With all this innovation taking place – from new widgets to new insurance products to new processes – it has become more important than ever for business leaders to institute Innovation programs, and MANAGE them effectively.

In the dark ages, NPD program participants ideated and created a new product and passed the torch to sales and marketing. Today, however, there are “new rules.” And that means more complex issues within the organization that require flexible structures and unprecedented cooperation across disciplines, teams and business units.

So, we now need bold tools such as new organizational structures, new forms of training, procedures, intra-company communications – and bold leaders who understand and can implement consensus across divisional and geographic boundaries.

At this point, I know what some of you may be thinking:

  • but we’re a smaller company, with less than $50 million in annual revenue, or
  • but we don’t have the time, manpower, or money for this type of comprehensive Innovation initiative
  • Why can’t we just “wing it” – like we usually do?

Remember, Innovation is not a luxury, even for today’s most successful company’s. Sustaining success means ongoing renewal of your intellectual property (IP) portfolio. After all, technologies become dated, end-user fashions change and new processes, materials and capabilities emerge.

Bear in mind, there are “rules of order” – for Innovation requires rules of the house, rules that must be implemented, maintained, protected, fostered – fiercely – in order for your Innovation program to succeed. Innovation is the lifeblood of any company and RROI is the heart of your sustainable growth strategy.

And what are those rules?

  • Inspire
  • No Risk, No Innovation
  • New Product Development Process
  • Ownership
  • Value Creation
  • Accountability
  • Training and Coaching
  • Idea Management
  • Observe and Measure
  • Net Result and Reward

Let’s now take a look at the first and one of the most important imperative, and understand why each is so critical to the creation of sustained Innovation.


The Leader of your Innovation SWAT team, has to inspire, lead and drive the process. Buy-in has to come from the top, it has to be an integral part of your company’s culture. This is an imperative.

It can’t be a “flavor of the month” effort. Short-term programs are sniffed out quickly by your company’s key people, with deleterious effects. Remember back in grade school, when the class would arrive in the morning and find a substitute teacher in front of the classroom? Do you remember what happened on such days? Mayhem.

For the Innovation program to work, the leader – and in many smaller and midsized companies, that person is the CEO – has to be regularly and personally involved, so that everyone understands: “this is the way it’s going to be. This is what I expect. There are no exceptions. We are all in this together. We will make it work. And we will all reap the rewards of this program.”

And the unspoken implication: or else.

A major tip on setting the culture, so that it is an unassailable, undeniable, inescapable part of life at your company: Set regular meetings.

“Ha!,” you say. “No way.” Time is tight, travel schedules are demanding, and your core team has their “day jobs.” And these day job responsibilities take lots of time and effort. What to do?

I have had great success with regular, monthly, two-hour meetings. These should be in-person – avoid long distance video conferencing if at all possible, because you want to create a sense of urgency and deadline pressure. This In-person meetings result in immediacy and face to face interaction, creativity and sense of esprit that can only come from your key players being in the same room, at the same time, under the leader’s watchful eye.

Is time availability a major issue? Fine. Link the monthly NPD meeting to divisional meetings, in order to enhance time efficiencies.

To communicate the importance of your Innovation effort, you need to make time for these meetings, and make sure everyone on the team understands that they will happen, and that participation is mandatory and that there are no excuses for lateness, unpreparedness and a lack of participation.

The CEO or designated leader runs the meetings. Prior to each session, this program Champion will discuss key issues and build consensus and help make decisions, with select members of the team.

Progress reports are mandatory. Each meeting will monitor progress, address issues and concerns, share research and results, allow for recalibration of priorities. New decisions will be made. Customer needs and wants will have to be considered. And, as stated previously, Innovation objectives will be created and prioritized for the next 30 days — in congruence with overall business objectives.

It’s all about accountability (see below) and the leader needs to ensure that project-by-project timelines and investment decisions are on-track.

Productivity at these meetings will depend largely on the composition of the team and complexity of the product line(s). So part of the leadership function is a determination of who is on the team. In my experience, many midsized and smaller companies have a limited number of internal experts from which to choose. The CEO runs the show. Key players should then include captains from Sales, Finance, Operations, Marketing.

And for those of you at larger firms: It’s still your inspiration that drives the process and sets the tone.

The net takeaway? In time, a new, vibrant culture is developed, one that runs throughout the organization. Do it right, step-by-step, building consensus, reinforcing ideas, underscoring the need for accountability, asking the right questions. Don’t rush it — it will come.

But, don’t waver, either. Stick to your guns, remain consistent, and it will happen. Thanks to you, the one who Inspires.

Does a ‘Chief Innovation Officer’ Inspire Your Team?

Who inspires your team?

Who develops the ideas, promotes an environment that fosters creative camaraderie, nourishes espirit de corps – and steers the organization toward greatness?

In short, who is your Chief Innovation Officer?

Every organization that grows by creating new products or services or aspires to out-class the competition needs a Chief Innovation Officer, or CIO.

In my book, Robert’s Rules of Innovation, “Inspiration” is the first and most important of the 10 imperatives. Inspiration drives everything else – from ideation to new product development to risk-taking itself.
Yet the selection of the CIO, and the definition of his or her tasks in seeing that these challenges are skillfully mastered, can make the difference between innovative success and failure.

What does the CIO do? He or she…

  1. Shows support from the top. Ideally, this position is held by the organization’s chief executive or president – someone who leads by example and “walks the talk.” Alternatively, and in a larger organization, he or she may be a “Crown Prince” – someone hand-picked by the executive leadership to oversee the task of inspiring greatness from within the team. It’s important that if the CIO is not the CEO or president, that he or she has the blessing of the senior executive. Otherwise, his or her ideas, inspirations or suggestions might be rebuffed.
  2. Communicates Overarching Goals and Progress. The imperative should be to overcommunicate and under-promise. Such communication keeps the organization focused on the vision, successes and failures.
  3. Builds a “Communication Corridor.” This practice of two-way traffic enables ideas to flow freely for equal consideration and sharing throughout a trusting enterprise. The open-door policy gives every participant a voice and motivation to say what needs to be said – even if they believe the project at hand is a losing proposition. Fear of retribution should never discourage people from speaking their minds.
  4. Connects the Silos. Better yet, he or she demolishes them. Knock down the barriers that keep silos apart by creating cross-functional teams.
  5. Commissions Cross-Group Stakeholders. These “champions across projects” should have the authority and budgets to test, learn and lead multiple groups through the process and assure ownership across groups is achieved. Bullies need not apply. These champions should encourage buy-in so innovation isn’t stymied or blocked.

This isn’t just for Fortune 500 corporations. Smaller organizations have more to gain from installing a CIO. This helps send the message that the position — and the commitment behind it — are vital to the organization’s long-term growth.

Whatever the size of the organization, inspiration is only valid if it’s derived from the vision, mission or strategy of the company — and driven by an executive empowered to see it through.

Inspiration Tips

There are several key steps to achieve the type of Innovation culture that inspires and creates intra-organization cohesion:

  • Lead By Example: It all starts at the top. Management buy-in and support of innovation and ideation is critical. And by support, I mean both material and emotional. It needs to not only endorse, but proactively push for Innovation. It’s the only way for your team to get the motivation to take time from their “day jobs” to make Innovation happen;
  • Over-Communicate, Under-Promise: Talk up overarching Innovation visions, successes (and failures), without hyperbole or pie-in-the-sky verbiage. Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Keep it real. Internal and external communications enhances group buy-in to Innovation goals. It’s important to articulate your grand vision and provide the compelling case for change.
  • Silo Demolition: Knock down the barriers that keep silos apart by creating cross-functional teams between groups that don’t typically interact. This keeps the flame of cooperation – and Innovation – burning brightly. “Silo-itis” can smother buy-in for innovation.
  • Pick the Right Champions: Select Innovation champions from various groups, and provide ownership and accountability, to drive Innovation results. Raise the bar on your talent selections. You know who they are – recruit these superstars, now! And remember that even the most technical of innovations require leaders with superior people- and communications skills.

By Robert F. Brands

About the Author

Robert F. Brands is President and founder of Brands & Company, LLC. Having gained hands-on experience in bringing innovation to market, creating and improving the necessary product development processes and needed culture, he delivered and exceeded to bring “at least one new product per year to market” resulting in double digit profitable growth and shareholder value.

Robert is the founder of Innovation, he is an innovation speaker and the author of “Robert’s Rules of Innovation, a 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival” with Martin Kleinman published March, 2010 by Wiley. The book contains assessment tools, tips, in depth chapters on the importance of Intellectual Property, working with multinational teams and more. For more information on Inspire & Initiate or any of the other imperatives please visit RobertsRules