A Good Environment For An Innovation Badass

by: Christine Hamilton (VP, Consulting Services)

Ever Googled “How to be a Badass”?  I did while doing some research on models for innovation in big quasi-public sector organizations.  One entry that caught my eye was Justine Musk’s blog “18 Not So Secret Truths for the Creative Badass”.

The title alone reminded me of the challenge facing long-standing legacy organizations that desperately WANT to be creative and innovative but are so hard wired in how they operate that they start, stumble, and retreat…..repeatedly.  When inner organizational workings won’t bend to accommodate the creative/innovation agenda, things don’t move forward as fast as the cool PowerPoint decks promised, enthusiasm diminishes and the opportunity to make an impact fades.  Even a badass leader may get frustrated and move on.

After working with various clients to get innovative results in products, services and processes, I’ve captured five essential conditions for achieving a more innovative environment.

  1. First, acknowledge that innovation in large, legacy organizations is hard.  A colleague of mine likens it to “the cactus and the kangaroo”.  The cactus (legacy organization) doesn’t want to change, and has strong defenses to keep the innovative kangaroo at a distance.  So establish an environment where the kangaroo stands a chance.  This may mean forcing changes to the way the cactus operates (e.g. through adjusting performance metrics).
  2. Ensure that governance and investment regimes line-up with the innovation agenda. You may end up with a dual track governance process – one for legacy activities and one under the banner of “innovation”.  Clear project entry/exit criteria will ensure people know how to get things done and who needs to be engaged.  Otherwise people will stumble along trying to ram divergent agendas down a single-track governance process that will frustrate progress.
  3. Recognize that not everyone is cut out to be an innovative “badass”.  When establishing an innovation incubator be aware of the personal characteristics required so you get the right people into the right roles.
  4. Be clear what measures of success will be used.  Make sure that organizational risk tolerance levels and decision-making latitude are well defined.  Yes, you want traditional boundaries to be pushed – but exactly how far?
  5. Don’t overlook enabling innovation through delivery and structural options.  You may be able to carve off a subsidiary, find a partner or acquire a company as your innovation engine.  Just considering these ideas can sometimes stimulate innovative thinking during planning activities.

In legacy environments innovation often seems to be pushed forward only through the heroic efforts of “dog-with-a-bone, break-down-barriers and speak-my-mind-no-matter-what-others-think” leaders.  But even these corporate badasses need the right kind of environment to work their creative magic.

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