Time to Get Up and Get Moving

By Christopher Miller, Ph.D.

Get back to the business of innovation. Get ready to exercise your innovation muscles. There is a reason they call it a Depression. It is depressing to pound away month after month, year after year, and not feel like the rock you are pounding on knows or cares that you are even there.  The company goes broke whether you have a great idea or not. The agency can’t be funded regardless of the value it is providing. You do the best work of your life for half price. Meanwhile, across town, or the hall… they are doing just fine. It’s “depressing”. Why “sharpen the saw” under these conditions?

Innovation has been a dead end job for many of us during these last few years. R&D budgets are off by 60% and are only now beginning to grow again. Note, they aren’t bouncing back…they are just beginning to grow from a drastically reduced level. The really great hyper-trained project managers of the last 20 years have bought hot dog stands at the shore, retired, gone to work for their uncle, or all of the above. Five years ago as a business person, I was putting everything I had into Innovation Focus, “the business”; as much as I believe in innovation, I have to come clean and admit that my investments in the last few years have been in our other business areas, more mundane and more stable. In the end business management is portfolio management. In tough times it feels good to sit on a stable asset. But now, if we aren’t careful we will still be sitting when the rest of the world is somewhere else.

It is time to kick our organizations in the shin and get going. It takes 8, 10, 12 years to grow a really great innovation project manager; one who has failed often enough, and succeeded often enough, to have some perspective.  The clock on this development doesn’t start until you start it. Here are some ideas on how you can get hubris and start today:

  • It’s not about tools; it’s about people (good people with good tools – even better). Find your next project manager wherever they are, look at finance, HR, operations. Who is ready for the challenge of innovation? There are great cases of superb innovation leaders coming from all of these areas and more.

  • Training is critical to shortening the lead time. Push NPDP Certification, CPSI training, and conferences. Think about the soft skills and getting people away from your office. Don’t Six Sigma your training budget.

  • Reach out to your retirees, and ask for forgiveness and help. Reach out to the retirees of others. Data supports the value of maintaining seniority in the workplace. You need some “old farts” hanging around… full time, part time, however you can get them. They show up and they know stuff you don’t.

  • Road trip, do less, share more. Get away from the office with your team members particularly to where your customers gather…drive don’t fly, and talk to each other for a few hours.

  • Churn, shift jobs within the current team. Churn is way down across the work force. Give people new challenges and strengthen the cross training of your team in the meantime. You can’t afford to lose the knowledge you do have and the employee can’t afford to sit in position for another three years while the economy comes back.

Innovation is about your team putting the technology of the world in the hands of your customers.  Innovation is neither a random or lock step process. Successful innovation requires knowledgeable and experienced people making a thousand tweaks to an agreed to process.  Get people. Get process. Get going!

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