Building upon my popular article Rise of the Evangelist, I wanted to create an article for the global innovation community focused specifically on the importance of the innovation evangelist role.

In my previous article I defined five different types of evangelists that organizations may already have, or may want to hire, including:

  1. Chief Evangelist
  2. Brand Evangelists
  3. Product Evangelists
  4. Service Evangelists
  5. Innovation Evangelists

This specialization occurs when the evangelism an organization needs become too big for one evangelist to handle. At that point, a Chief Evangelist creates the evangelism strategy and manages the execution across the team of brand, innovation, and other evangelism focus areas.

When Should an Organization Focus on Innovation Evangelism?

To continue to exist as a business, every organization should build an infrastructure for continuous innovation, but many don’t. If you’re not sure what this looks like, here is my Infinite Innovation Infrastructure (which leverages the Nine Innovation Roles):

For those organizations investing in innovation, it is crucial to also invest in innovation evangelism when:

  1. Innovation is part of the company’s strategy
  2. Innovation is central to competitive differentiation
  3. The company wants to share their innovation stories
  4. The company wants to partner with customers to innovate
  5. The company wants to partner with suppliers to innovate
  6. The company wants to engage experts in innovation
  7. The company wants to engage the general public in innovation

You’ll notice many of these points hint at the need for an external talent strategy, and Innovation Evangelism must play a key role. Because of this, I encourage you to download and consult the success guide I created for Innocentive on Harnessing the Global Talent Pool to Accelerate Innovation which focuses on the elements and importance of external talent in any company’s innovation efforts.

Bill Joy, a co-Founder of Sun Microsystems, once famously said:

“There are always more smart people outside your company than within it.”

Any external talent strategy must accumulate energy and then unleash it in a focused direction. And part of the way to do that is by establishing a common language of innovation. The process begins by defining what innovation means to your organization. Consider looking at this as the WHO – WHAT – WHEN – WHERE – WHY – HOW of innovation:

  • WHO is to be involved in your innovation efforts?
  • WHAT does innovation mean to you? WHAT types of innovation are you focused on?
  • WHEN will you be looking for innovation input?
  • WHERE can people go to find out more? WHERE do they go to contribute?
  • WHY should people want to participate?
  • HOW can they participate?

You must consciously create and execute an external talent strategy to succeed in what is becoming an increasingly competitive marketplace for external talent. Will you establish yourself as the partner of choice in your industry as your competitors increase their innovation investments?

There is no time like the present to:

  1. Stoke your innovation bonfire by creating a common language of innovation;
  2. Identify the sources of value and primary connection points around which to build strong external talent communities;
  3. Use the global talent pool to get your innovation bonfire burning hot;
  4. And, to accelerate your innovation efforts faster than those of your competition.

Should Innovation Evangelism be a Job or a Role?

Now, maybe you’re an innovation manager, or a product manager, and find yourself thinking that you ARE the innovation evangelist (before I even describe the job responsibilities). That may be true, for now. But, having innovation evangelism form only a portion of a single individual’s job responsibilities is not sustainable for many organizations.

The job is just too important, and too big for many organizations to be done part-time. In some organizations this leads to the creation of new roles like Innovation Director or Chief Innovation Officer to focus more on the evangelism responsibilities while having Innovation Managers dedicate their efforts entirely on the operational management of innovation activities. Opening up a job requisition for an Innovation Evangelist might be a better approach for many organizations.

What Does an Innovation Evangelist Do?

Some organizations will resist adding evangelists to their team, feeling that such a role is superfluous. But, having one or more people focused on evangelism delivers value to the organization by executing a range of incredibly important activities, including:

  • Enhancing the company’s reputation as an innovator both inside and outside the organization
  • Gathering the company’s innovation success stories from both customers and employees
  • Empowering people across the organization to highlight these stories
  • Building awareness in a targeted community for the company’s innovation success stories
  • Listening to customers at multiple interaction points to identify future innovation opportunities
  • Building a community around the company and/or plugging the company into pre-existing external communities (potentially taking the brand’s innovation to new places)
  • Generating interest among customers, partners, suppliers toward innovation partnership
  • Connecting customers, partners, suppliers with the appropriate co-innovation programs
  • Practicing a human-centered design mindset to continuously elicit needs and surface wants and desired outcomes

What Makes a Good Innovation Evangelist?

Evangelists arrive from a range of different job specialties, but key knowledge, skills and abilities include:

  1. Empathetic
  2. Passionate About the Company’s Mission, Products/Services, and Customers
  3. Comfortable Public Speaker
  4. Efficient and Effective Writer
  5. Human-Centered Design Mindset
  6. Experienced with Social Media, Audio and Video
  7. Skilled Content Creator
  8. Continuous Learner
  9. Self-Directed and Comfortable with Ambiguity

… and ideally your chosen evangelists will already have some presence in the innovation communities important to you, or the knowledge of how to establish a presence in these communities.

It’s important to remember that investing in an innovation evangelist is a long-term non-transactional investment, one that will pay dividends if you see the wisdom in making the expenditure.

  • Has your organization already invested in innovation evangelists?
  • What learnings would you like to share in the comments?
  • Are you ready to invest in innovation evangelism in your organization? (contact me if you do)

Keep innovating!

About the Author

Braden KelleyBraden Kelley is a Design Thinking, Innovation and Transformation Consultant, a popular innovation speaker and workshop leader, and helps companies plan organizational changes that are more human and less overwhelming. He is the author of Charting Change from Palgrave Macmillan and Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire from John Wiley & Sons. Braden has been advising companies since 1996, while living and working in England, Germany, and the United States. Braden earned his MBA from top-rated London Business School. Follow him on Twitter and Linkedin.

Featured image via Unsplash.