The explosion in innovation advisor number and types over the past two years has been amazing. We have met innovation lawyers, innovation accountants, start-up business advisers, innovation HR specialists, innovation communication specialists – just to name a few.
To allay any concerns you might have about whether the innovation advisor you’re considering has the experience you need (or is newly minted on the basis of reading a book or attending an innovation course), here are 10 questions to ask before you commit:
1. Can you describe the different innovation strategies you’ve used?
2. Can you give some examples of different innovation management systems you’ve worked with?
3. Can you outline how open innovation might work for me?
4. What ideation approaches do you suggest?
5. What idea selection pathways do you advocate?
6. What approaches do you recommend to implement new ideas?
7. What roles have you played in managing validation and engagement with research teams?
8. What innovation outcomes have you helped your clients achieve?
9. What are your views on innovation culture and how to achieve it?
10. What is the best way to evaluate innovation programs?
When listening to or reading their responses, keep the following in mind:
1. A range of strategies can be adopted to help an organisation increase competitiveness, differentiate itself and grow. At a high level, the strategies can focus on product innovation, service innovation, process innovation and business model innovation. They can then look at aspects such as timeframes, portfolio risk profiles and ecosystem collaboration. You will want to get a strong sense that the prospective innovation advisor has implemented various different strategies according to the needs of each client and doesn’t just push the one they are comfortable with.
2. An innovation management system enables an organisation to clearly communicate to stakeholders how ideas or new products or services will be identified, assessed and implemented. Different organisations have different systems that help to achieve the selected strategy. Systems can be as simple as a monthly review of an Excel spreadsheet of ideas or more complex, like a gamified software platform.
3. Number 3 is a bit of a trick question. Most innovation specialists will answer that it relates to finding ideas from outside sources; and yes, that is one component. But open innovation actually entails engaging with external parties all the way through the innovation management system. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNNz9poyKJs for a fantastic video on the concept.
4. Internal workshops and hackathons, the good ol’ suggestion box, and a myriad of stakeholder engagement activities can help stimulate and generate idea flow. Make sure that what the prospective innovation specialist proposes will fit your budget, company size, culture and goals.
5. Different ideas have different levels of knowledge around them (facts vs assumptions). Without different selection pathways, great ideas are often discarded. An experienced innovation advisor will understand how important this is to achieve transformational outcomes.
6. Implementation is key. You can have a great idea but inappropriate implementation approaches which will result in nothing of value and potentially a loss of time, resources, motivation and support. New and unproven ideas and technologies need different implementation approaches that are preferably outside of the normal corporate structure. Poor implementation is also why many organisations have had innovation programs fail (to live up to expectations at least).
7. While not all innovation requires objective, evidence-based and independent validation, sometimes it can make a huge difference to how your idea progresses, how quickly it returns value, and how easily it will be adopted. If you think this is something you need, then make sure that your advisor has the contacts and the experience. Managing external R&D teams requires particular skill. If they have had successful outcomes with multiple public and/or private research teams, you’ve scored a definite bonus.
8. You’ll want some tangible cost/benefit type response to help you gauge if their services are going to deliver for you too.
9. Beware the advisor who proposes doing anything on innovation culture before plans for an innovation system are underway. Improved innovation culture comes from being able to communicate what is going to happen, how people will be involved, as well as how they are going to be rewarded for their engagement. Trying to do this without a process in place results in a lot of ‘feel good’ workshops that will create unrealistic expectations.
10. Evaluation and success indicators will depend on what your business is trying to achieve and the timeframes around those goals. There’s no one ‘best way’; but some metrics are certainly better than others.
Impact Innovation has been helping clients with specialist innovation and technology commercialisation services for more than 10 years. If you’re about to engage an innovation advisor, please ask us those 10 questions too.
– Brian Ruddle, Managing Director