Sign this Pledge, Innovator

Congratulations, you’ve been hired as an Innovator. This is the apex of applied creativity, the rock’n’roll of industry; you are hired to rock the boat. Steady your Warby Parker’s. Hit pause on your Audible copy of Abundance. Check your heart monitor data and caffeine levels. Fill your closets with Robert Graham and PrAna, and get some crazy socks; it’s time to work.

 

You’ll be outfitted with Apple everything, as long as you mention Apple as the shining avatar of innovation and try to suggest an App accompany every innovation, even non-digital solutions.

 

Open office. Unlimited organic coffee. Bean bags. Whiteboards. Robot pets. Really nice chairs. 3-D printer. Smart, beautiful colleagues who value each other’s eccentricities. Enough Trend data to clog a server. Organic snacks.

 

While this stereotype bespeaks the many perks of an innovation career, make no mistake. Innovation is fundamentally a sales job. The most vexing point: you will be selling change, a next-generation mindset. Keep these points in mind as you gear up for the inevitable politics of a place.

 

Many people will feel threatened, question your motives, and protect their short-term bonuses with the wily and cunning nature of an arch villain in a spy novel.

 

Your more reasoned cases will be questioned with more scrutiny than an Annual Report. Your business model adaption suggestions will gain an audience, but for the wrong reasons. Like a Roman gladiatorial showcase, the spectators line up to see you being fed to the lions.

 

Any recommendations transformative of the core business will be dismissed emotionally, even if they are the right recommendations for the organization.

 

All you can do is quote the insights, point to the size of the opportunity and declining market share, and try and make as many allies as possible.

 

Everyone longs for change, but the reality of having to change strikes an irrational fear in even open-minded people. Therefore, you must master the powers of persuasion. Why is change positive in this case? What are the steps, the milestones, on the journey, who benefits? What happens if change doesn’t happen?

 

It is your job to tell great stories that read their audience ahead of meetings and pre-guess similar questions. With your gifts of storytelling, you can help those closed down to change to open up, see a vision rich in possibilities, all while honestly noting the risks at hand.

 

Selling a plausible path forward in a language that resonates with internal stakeholders is much harder than generating breakthrough concepts and extracting driving insights from consumers. Diplomacy is the real skill set necessary for innovation professionals.

 

If you are considering a job with Innovation in the title, I would ask you to sign this pledge.

 

            I, _______________________________, vow to not get dismayed by resistance to new thinking. It is my job to present ideas in ways that resonate with the audience. Even if some people feel threatened by these new models of value creation, it is my calling to be patient, respectful, and kind.  

 

Michael Graber is the managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, an innovation and strategic growth firm based in Memphis, TN and the author of Going Electric. Visit www.southerngrowthstudio.com to learn more.