Tactical Innovation: What Makes a Great Innovator?

Daniel Maycock is one of Slalom's acknowledged thought leaders in the realm of new and emerging technology.

Daniel Maycock is one of Slalom’s acknowledged thought leaders in the realm of new and emerging technology.

Part of the work I’ve been doing this year is gathering up the last several conversations I’ve had over the course of being involved in a number of mobile strategy engagements at various Fortune 500 companies around the US. Mobile strategy has been on the forefront of many companies’ agendas as emerging technologies are transforming the way business is done, so it’s not uncommon for forward-looking people at a company to be engaged in conversations about innovating with mobile.

Typically the person put in charge of mobile is someone that’s been there a while, though it could also be a brand-new employee who is just getting up to speed. Regardless, the people that typically champion mobile are A) executives that recognize mobile’s importance, have a deep understanding of the company’s IT culture, and have some level of tenure with the CIO to move a mobile initiative forward, and B) those that report to those executives that have the passion and drive to learn mobile inside and out, and then help promote it throughout the enterprise.

Both types of employees typically know that it will be difficult to foray through enterprise politics, approvals, and individuals. These mobile champions must have an ability to build relationships and help with user adoption from the get-go. They must immediately establish credibility to instill confidence among employees and lead direction, or else others will feel they have just as much expertise and will forge their own paths.

I’m brought in as a consultant because I can do both of those things, helping augment the staff at the client’s company to make it happen. But whether I’m there or not, it’s not easy seeding a new technology along with all the best practices and governance elements that come with it to make sure it’s rolled out efficiently and responsibly. There’s a host of challenges—people often have their own perspectives on how things should go, there’s conflicting budget requests, etc.—and technology typically gets adopted slowly. These are just some of the barriers that an organization will face when trying to push a new technology out to the business.

Yet, over time, the technology does become seeded and eventually gets adopted. It’ll happen at some companies faster than others, but it’ll happen because in the back of everyone’s mind, change has to occur for the business to stay competitive. Consultants like myself help speed things up, because we’ve done it numerous times elsewhere. Much like installing carpet: you could learn to do it yourself, but it’s not cost-feasible if you’re only going to install carpet once every 5-10 years vs. someone that does it day in and day out.

The people I’ve met that champion mobile technology are true innovators. Innovation is difficult and sometimes painful; it’s not fun to shake things up and help people believe that they’ll be in worse shape if they don’t listen to you. These mobile champions are innovators because they understand the current climate and know what needs to change and how to make it happen, along with the benefits therein.

More important, though, they have the gusto and motivation to push change forward regardless of the obstacles. Most frequently the term “innovator” is attributed to those that invent new ways of doing things or help shape/design a new type of product or service. Though they may be innovators, they will leave at the end of the day and who’s left in the company is now tasked with other types of innovation—initiating brainstorming sessions and getting blueprints implemented and adopted. This requires years of relationship building, execution and trust, selfless service, and a burning passion for helping one’s company be better. Innovation, in its simplest definition, means “a new method, idea, product, etc.” It represents newness. It varies from invention, though, in that it’s translating an idea or invention into a good service or product that creates value for which someone will pay money.

An innovation isn’t necessarily something created from scratch, but rather a new interpretation of what’s been created along with different ideas about how to apply it. The conception of the idea is the fun part, but it’s the implementation of that idea that’s so tricky. Seeing innovators is tricky, because they’re lodged deep inside organizations or governments or corporations, taking those inspirational ideas and creations and finding ways to apply them to their environments. More important, they’re spending the time and effort to grease the wheels and make sure there’s a compatible and acceptable environment for an innovation to thrive.

I believe that innovation often happens in the middle, from doers that connect the dots and drive meaningful change. It’s not easy to be a doer; it’s not easy to connect dots (especially when it’s just a side job). Slalom is a company that doesn’t like spending hours on theory, because clients don’t like paying for hypotheticals or big brains if it doesn’t translate into actual work, and they should expect that every dollar spent on a consultant produces work at a greater rate than they could have accomplished on their own. With that said, there still needs to be thinking applied to new problems, because if all we did was solve problems the way they’ve always been solved, then we’d be delivering commoditized solutions with the lowest-cost vendors performing work at a typical pace.

At Slalom, we apply innovation in the most tactical way possible, infusing it into the work we’re doing, the conversations we’re having, and the billable engagements we’re executing. My goal with this blog series is to talk about some of those examples, as well as some of the practical ways Slalom demonstrates innovation along the way. The goal is to offer suggestions about how to look at innovation in a new way, so that you as a client, partner, or employee might consider how you can embrace new thinking to improve the way you do business, and invest in new ideas in an intelligent, tangible way.

About Daniel Maycock
Driven & passionate IT thought leader with several years experience working with companies to help solve their most difficult technology issues. Focus is around successful adoption of emerging technologies, such as Mobile & Cloud technologies, and providing the tools & expertise to help companies successfully adopt these technologies where they make the most business sense.

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