At Creative Realities, we call ourselves "the innovation management collaborative." We do that as a result of some brand equity research we commissioned about a year ago to find out what value our past and current clients found in us versus the competition. We were in the midst of creating a new "Brand Expression" for ourselves with a cool company called blackcoffee.
The world of innovation has become extremely crowded since we opened our doors 20 years ago. From single practitioners who focus on facilitating a meeting or session, to large global consulting firms who have taken interest in this space and believe their model translates here. Many of our clients have experience with a wide range of innovation consulting resources. So we wanted to know why they continued to come back to us, some for our entire 20 years of business life. What is our unique value proposition?
Innovation, Management, Collaborative
Those three words defined our unique value proposition. This morning, the "collaborative" part is on my mind so I'd like to share some thinking with you. Innovation is nothing without collaboration. It is the extremely rare situation where one person has all that's needed to identify an opportunity, conceive the solution, and successfully implement it without help. Some entrepreneurial situations come close, but everyone needs help. In large organizations, collaboration is absolutely essential. It begins with an internal collaboration. A team of people with diverse expertise, points of view and who impact and can tap into the organization in different ways and different places.
The M.A.S.H. Mentality
It's about how you organize your group into a team and then how you work and think together. Here's some tips for creating an innovation team:
Diversity isn't just an Human Resources term. A powerful team will have a range of diverse perspectives. We all come from different backgrounds, which create different contexts through which we hear and filter information. A key ingredient for innovation:
- Diversity of function/expertise. The ideal small New Product or New Business team has at least one technologist, one marketer and one business manager. Why these three? In most situations the new solution will be addressing an unmet or unexpressed need (the marketer), with some form of technical solution (the technologist), in a way that creates a successful business (the business manager). If technology is not as critical, then it may be operations or some other relevant expertise that occupies that seat. The point is that your core team should have necessary and relevant expertise and be able to tap into others within the organization of similar bent. Networking influence is critical.
- Naivete. I can't begin to tell you how often the breakthrough for innovation comes from the person who doesn't know why they are involved, because they "don't know anything about this." But the so-called experts are too often bogged down by all the things they tried and failed at previously, or too caught up in what they think the idea is to see a somewhat different, very elegant solution. (Quick story: In a session with all double and triple PhD's from places like Sandia Labs, Bell Labs, etc. we once brought in a 70+ year-old Grandmother. When the client asked "Why?" we said "Don't know." In one day, 25 patent applications were completed. The client credited 20 as being driven by insights from the "Grandmother.")
- Demographic diversity. Yes, the HR aspect is at play here too. Age, race, gender are all important. We find this to be true everyday. I'm a Boomer, I see things through the eyes and the historical experience of a Boomer. It amazes me how differently my Generation X or Y colleagues see things and the very different types of connections they make.
- Diversity of thought process. Here's where you need your "Klinger." Regardless of demographic, or expertise, you need at least one person who out and out thinks differently! Someone who says something that makes you go "Huh?" Klinger's are constantly shaking you up, forcing you to think again, try a new perspective. The last thing you want is to have everyone thinking the same way, going to all the same places, etc. Klingers often don't fit well within large, bureaucratic organizations. They tend to get "weeded out." Sad, but true, one of our largest clients just a few years ago, in answer to the question "Who are your Klingers?" responded "We don't have any. We killed them all." It took a little while, but they've got a few again!
With diversity often comes communication issues. Frankly, we all see and hear things differently. And too often, we talk right past each other. We are communicating based on how we process information. Meanwhile, the other person is listening the way they process information. We don't even know we aren't communicating. People get upset that the other one doesn't listen. There are a number of personality profiling techniques that can help us understand this and adjust our team communications accordingly. There are several you can use to help with this team communication building. One we like to use, because they even have a "game" that you can use to generate some beginning insights is HBDI (Hermann Brain Dominence Instrument™). We use it in our early team compact meetings to help point out the differences and begin to help members understand the various communication needs of the team.
Along with the composition of your team, you're going to need some different ways to make decisions. We favor "Championed Teamwork" which I'll leave for another day. We also have a range of "groundrules," tips and techniques for helping the M.A.S.H. unit work like a well-oiled team rather than an ad-hoc group. Check out the article listed on the side of this blog titled "M.A.S.H. Mentality: Prescription for Success for more helpful information.
Some years back I wrote an article for R&D Innovator on this subject: M.A.S.H. Mentality: Prescription for Success. You can also find the article on our resources page. As I'm blogging this morning, it came to mind, so I searched it out and read it again for current relevance. I was pleasantly surprised by how well it stood the test of time. So I made a few changes to the introduction, and am republishing it here. If you're getting ready to start an innovation effort in your company, building a team, or having some collaboration struggles, I'm hoping something in this article will be of help to you.