When the crew from Marlowe Innovation meets for lunch they review their recent projects and new clients. With more requests for innovation training, they realize that many firms are discovering that they can bring in house a lot of the work they’ve outsourced to the bigger consultancies.

I met the crew from Marlowe Innovation for lunch that afternoon at the Brown Derby.  The cool late October sun made me wish for my gabardines and a wool overcoat rather than the business suit I was wearing.  But I was following the consultants’ precept – never dress worse, or much better than, your customer.  And Accipiter was an old-line, suit and tie kind of place, where my lack of sartorial splendor was never an issue among the man in the gray suit fashion statements.

We were right where I thought we’d be at Accipiter, three months into an eight month engagement with about two months’ worth of work complete.  That didn’t alarm me much, since the lethargy and inertia that forestalled much action was starting to change.  Either we’d energized the beast and it would move more quickly, or we’d startled the beast enough to make it panic. Then it would show us its teeth for certain.  Only more work would tell if the new acceptance of our work was based on agreement or was merely laying a trap and waiting for us to fail.

I saw Matt in our favorite booth, with two cold, frosty adult beverages and one long slender iced tea.  I started right in for the squat mug, assuming the tea was for Meredith, who usually didn’t imbibe over lunch.  Matt raised his mug to me in a mock salute and quaffed a fair portion while I did the same.  Meredith entered a few minutes later and we took time to recap our work loads and plan the next quarter.  Matt and Meredith were fully up to speed on my work at Accipiter, and I tried to avoid talking about it as much as possible.

Meredith told us about some new ethnography work she had just won at a new client.  There’s nothing better than new work, unless it’s also new work with a new customer.  The client, a medical services company, wanted to understand unmet and undiscovered needs in its customer base.  Spotting a possible opportunity, I asked Meredith about another service.

“Are they at all interested in innovating around the customer experience?”

She hardly blinked.

“I’ve already teed up some work on customer experience journey mapping, and I think they’ll be very interested in it.”

We didn’t hire her just for her looks.

“We’re going to kick off an ethnographic study with some of their customers and patients, and evaluate behaviors and actions to understand if there are some unmet needs.  Those will become need statements that we’ll have Matt use to drive some idea generation with their team.  Once that work is complete, we’ll have a chance to pitch them on some customer experience journey work, but I’m concerned about trying to do both at the same time.”

Matt nodded.  “Two different approaches for two different needs.”

“Yep, and since they are a new client, we need to demonstrate some value before enlarging the scope of the work.  Great job.”

Meredith was clearly pleased, but Matt and I had already thrown out our shoulders slapping ourselves on the back for bringing her in.  She had added a crucial capability to our team and had attracted new work on her own.  My only concern was whether or not she realized how valuable she was to our little firm.

“How about you Matt?”

I knew what Matt was working on, and who he was working with, just as he knew about my trials and travails with Accipiter.  You can’t be partners for over a decade without great communication, but I’d found that a short discussion always led to new insights or opportunities.

“Still working with Conover on some new idea generation, and they’ve asked us to deliver some innovation training to their mid-level managers.  I think over time they could do a great job managing the idea generation internally, but it will be a few more months before they are fully trained.”

“We’re seeing a lot of requests for innovation training.”

“Yes, I think firms are starting to realize that with the right tools and methodologies, they can bring in house a lot of the work they’ve outsourced to the bigger consultancies.”

“You think they’ve finally realized how important innovation is to their businesses?”

“No, but they are starting to realize that innovation can be a competitive advantage and they want more innovation more frequently.”

We were well stocked for opportunities. In fact, if the work at Accipiter kicked off well, we’d probably need to hire another consultant or two if we could find some to fit in with the merry band.

“Reach out to your contacts, both of you.  See if there are people you know you’d like to bring aboard, especially strategic folks and people with a background in training.”

Meredith and Matt both nodded.  I think they were happy, and I was pleased to see Marlowe growing.

By Jeffrey Phillips

About the author:

Jeffrey Phillips is VP Marketing and a lead consultant for OVO Innovation. Jeffrey has led innovation projects for Fortune 5000 firms, academic institutions and not-for=profits based on OVO Innovation’s Innovate on Purpose™ methodology. The Innovate on Purpose methodology encourages organizations to consider innovation as a sustainable, repeatable business process, rather than a discrete project. Jeffrey is the author of “Make Us More Innovative,” and blogs about innovation at Innovate On Purpose. He is a sought after speaker and has presented to corporations, innovation oriented conferences, and at a number of universities.