In the Moment

Teams that innovate need more than talent and ideas

Mark Kuznicki

Leaders looking for teams to create and develop new value propositions, business models and service experiences for their customers often look for smart people with good ideas. We know from experience that talent and ideas are important, but insufficient.

Innovation work inside established or traditional organizations is difficult, ambiguous and demanding. The DNA of established companies often has strong immune responses to new ideas and new ways of solving problems. More likely than not, your best talent and ideas are going to crash upon the rocks of institutional resistance and poor execution.

Your best talent and ideas are going to crash upon the rocks of institutional resistance and poor execution

This is the dirty secret of innovation — a field that is both more essential to future growth and value creation than ever before and filled with failures and strewn with stories of woe.

From the research and our experience of working with dozens of teams across industries and sectors, the familiar patterns keep showing up. Project teams given a mandate to innovate and come up with something new are setup to fail from the beginning.

We all need to do better. Leaders need to do much better.

It is tragic to see great promise in terms of talented, energetic team members with great potential demoralized by an organization that is not prepared to support their efforts. That talent, and their ideas, will vote with their feet and leave those organizations that aren’t able to create the conditions for success.

We wrote a guide to getting started to help leaders and intrapreneurs inside organizations think through the steps that are needed to setup an innovation project team to be successful. If this sounds like you, you should go and get your copy.


Here are most essential steps you can do to setup your project and team:

  1. Have an innovation process framework
  2. Reframe the challenge in a way that enables real innovation work
  3. Understand and identify the different types of innovation that might be part of the challenge
  4. Clearly identify your assumptions and the risks to your project and team
  5. THEN, structure and cast your team based on having thought through these first four steps
  6. Get going!

Innovation is a practice, so give the team the support they need to put their good ideas, processes, methods and tools to work. The best part of our job as innovation designers is guiding, supporting and developing innovation teams as they develop and hone their craft on big challenges with the potential to create great impact.

Your job as a leader is to support that team, provide resources, remove barriers, help navigate the cultural immune responses, advocate for the team when the going gets tough — and to be open to having your own assumptions challenged.

When you do, be prepared to be amazed, inspired, challenged and transformed. True innovation work that dives deeply into understanding human needs while developing solutions that will create new value for the organization is incredibly rewarding work.

For many, it is a calling.

It all starts with a leader and a team.

NOTE: This post originally appeared on Medium, September 15, 2016

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