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Need to Innovate? Start With Hiring


April 10, 2012 - Lexington, MA

Companies that need to innovate should "staff up" for innovation, identifying candidates and current hires with the "right innovation stuff."

That's because innovation works best when the ability to innovate is broadly distributed in the organization, not just confined to small teams -- so finding employees with critical innovation skills is essential, says an innovation expert.

"There is tremendous innovation energy within every individual and every company. Not every employee has the makings of an innovator -- but many do, probably more than management realizes," says Scott D. Anthony, Managing Director and head of the Asia-Pacific operation of innovation consulting firm Innosight and author of The Little Black Book of Innovation: How It Works, How to Do It (Harvard Business Review Press, January 2012). The book distills some of the best and most tested innovation insights and practices. It also provides a 28-day program that can turn individuals and organizations into more successful innovators.

"Innovators are already in your talent pool and in your organization. You need to know how to recognize them if you're going to unleash the power of innovation," he says.

"It's critical to identify innovators at all levels," Mr. Anthony says. "It is insufficient to isolate innovation to small, elite teams that are split off from day-to-day activities. Innovation needs to be pervasive -- part of the organization's fabric, and close to customers, whose needs often drive innovation. But to push innovation throughout the organization, you first need to know who the innovators are."

According to Mr. Anthony, anyone can improve his or her innovation capabilities via conscious training. "Some people think innovation is a gift from above given to a precious few," he says. "The reality is innovation is a discipline that can be mastered and managed."

Nonetheless, companies should identify employees who have a demonstrated passion for and proclivity around innovation. Anthony specifically suggests looking for people who are:

  • Focused externally -- especially on customers. "They're willing and able to get out and spend time with customers. Innovation doesn't happen in a vacuum and it isn't confined to labs. It happens in the marketplace. The best innovations pinpoint and then meet real customer needs."

  • Biased toward action. "Innovation isn't effective unless it's practical. Effective innovation isn't about creating the best ideas -- it's about creating products and services that meet real needs and can be produced quickly and cost-effectively. Innovators know when to create products that are minimalist and viable -- easy to produce and easy for customers to understand."

  • Bipolar -- optimistic and pessimistic at once. "Innovators live with creative tension. In one breath, they can tell you how they are going to change the world. In the next they practically detail the biggest risks between them and success -- and their plan to remove those risks."

  • Entrepreneurial -- driven by opportunity and not limited by organizational constraint. "Howard Stevenson from the Harvard Business School defines an entrepreneur as someone who 'pursues opportunity without regard for resources currently controlled.' Instead of letting what they have direct innovation efforts, innovators find creative ways to assemble resources to meet an identified need."

  • Networked -- able to look across product and organizational boundaries to create new ideas. "One of the biggest misperceptions is of the lone inventor tirelessly toiling away in his garage or basement. Innovation happens at intersections. A good innovator builds a diverse team with complementary skills. They network for ideas as well. Some of the best innovations are those that combine existing products in new ways like the Apple iPhone, which added phone functionality to an entertainment device and upended the mobile phone category."

  • Fast to decide, especially on limited information. "Effective innovation isn't about having the best ideas -- it's about turning good ideas into products and getting them to market fast. Often that means acting on limited information -- seeing a market need quickly and intuitively, and pushing or killing projects based on limited data."

  • Quick to recognize -- and kill -- projects that aren't working. "One of the reasons innovation efforts fail is that they suck up resources. That can happen when management is striving for perfection, or when it falls in love with a project and pursues it past all reason. A key part of innovation is knowing when to kill a project. Good innovators are passionate but they don't fall in love with particular ideas -- they are quick to see when a project isn't working out and equally quick to kill it."

  • Talented at sales. "Innovation isn't just invention. To be a successful innovator you need to be able to sell your idea at every stage -- to get initial backing from management, to get support and resources from colleagues, and to turn the idea into a final product, often in competition with other projects that are vying for management's attention."

"It's not enough just to locate people with innovation talent," Mr. Anthony says. "Organizations need to train them to be pragmatic innovators, focused on creating real-world products and services. And more importantly, organizations need to support innovation with a culture and reward systems that promote prudent risk-taking and allow for 'smart failure' on the way to eventual success. An 'innovation culture' recognizes that results aren't always guaranteed -- but the right behavior and mind-set will eventually produce good results."

To arrange a conversation with Scott D. Anthony of Innosight and/or receive copy of The Little Black Book of Innovation: How It Works, How to Do It, contact Katarina Wenk-Bodenmiller of Sommerfield Communications, Inc. at 212-255-8386 or katarina@sommerfield.com.

ABOUT SCOTT D. ANTHONY
Scott D. Anthony is the managing director of Innosight, Asia-Pacific. Based in Innosight's Singapore office, he leads its Asian consulting operations and its venture-capital investment activities. He has worked with clients ranging from national governments to companies in industries as diverse as healthcare, telecommunications, consumer products and software. He is the author of The Little Black Book of Innovation (Harvard Business Review Press, January 2012) and The Silver Lining (Harvard Business Review Press, 2009). He is the co-author of Seeing What's Next (Harvard Business Review Press, 2004) and The Innovator's Guide to Growth (Harvard Business Review Press, 2008).

ABOUT INNOSIGHT
Innosight is an innovation consulting firm with offices in Boston, Singapore, and India. It works with companies to devise growth strategies, discover new, high-growth markets, and create disruptive new products and services. Its comprehensive, end-to-end approach converts the quest for innovation and growth into a predictable and reliable process. For more information, visit www.innosight.com.

Contact:
Katarina Wenk-Bodenmiller
Sommerfield Communications, Inc.
(212) 255-8386
katarina@sommerfield.com

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