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Who Are Your Innovators?

Posted on June 6th, 2016 by in Chemical R&D

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It’s often said that the most valuable asset of any company is its employees. The same could be said of any innovation or product development program too. No matter the industry or technology, it’s people who are responsible for moving things forwards.

But people are not all the same.

Here are two types of people I often come across in technical organizations.

  1. There are some people who always seem to come up with great ideas, push boundaries and feel comfortable operating with a huge amount of uncertainty. They’re great with conceptual thinking and making connections that most others seem to miss. These people are natural innovators.
  2. Others seem to excel in a more structured environment, delivering their part of a product development program on time and on budget. They’re able to stick to the plan and avoid scope creep or the constant temptation of tweaking things just a little bit more. These are the people who bring innovative ideas into the real world.

While of course those two descriptions do not capture everyone, people can usually self-identify with one of those. In my experience, those two skill sets tend to be mutually exclusive too. It’s unusual for someone to be skilled in both coming up with the innovation and also managing a program for its real world manufacture or implementation.

Yet so often, when someone is successful in developing a new concept or product idea, they get sucked into a full product development program along with their idea. They’re moved from an innovation-focussed space to a delivery-focussed environment. The skills needed to thrive in those two environments are very different and it can take a long time for someone to cycle back through to an innovation team again, if they ever do.

Another strategy that’s commonly employed is to completely isolate innovation teams, allowing them to innovate and develop new technology without the responsibility of delivering a fully formed final product. But that can cause huge disruption at the handover point and needs careful documentation and communication to make sure everything keeps moving and the innovation doesn’t get lost in translation.

While it’s important to manage the handover between an innovation phase and a product development phase, it’s also important to release people to do work that’s the best fit for them.

It perhaps goes without saying that most organizations need a mixture of different types of people to succeed, and so it is when bringing innovation products or solutions to market. For an organization that wants to be innovative, the best starting point is to simply work out which employees are natural innovators. The next step is to release those people, as much as possible, to innovate.


All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

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