3 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Innovators

January 30, 2014

You interview, hire, show them to their desks, and then what, hope for the best?  Hiring an inspired and innovative staff is one of the biggest challenges you as a manager will ever take on, but getting innovative results from your staff takes more than just hiring the best candidate.

So what can be done once you bring your new hires on board?

I had the chance to listen in on a presentation from Dr. Delony Langer-Anderson of 3M while at the Frost & Sullivan 8th Annual Innovation in New Product Development and Marketing in New Orleans, an event in which Wellspring Worldwide was a proud sponsor.  Dr. Langer-Anderson addressed the challenge of bringing out the best in your staff – something she says is sorely ignored and even mismanaged by leaders who may think they’re doing the right thing.

Dr. Langer-Anderson used a term I loved, something she called, “The Fuzzy Front End.”  She explained that at the first level of innovation, the true ideation stage, is the “fuzzy end” of the problem.  It’s something “hairy and scary,” and thus innovation managers want people who are curious by nature in this role.  These are the types of people will try to comprehend and make sense of the abstract chaos, turning it into order.

Hiring in innovation roles, in my opinion, is really only about two-thirds of the solution.  You make sure you have the best innovation-driven people in place.

It seems from what I have encountered and heard from those who work in these roles is that many innovation managers stop here.  They think, “Hey, I hired a creative mind.  Let’s see what they end up with.”

It’s true that few like working for a micro-manager, especially the creative minds who may be a bit unconventional when addressing innovation.  But Dr. Langer-Anderson pointed out that the best innovation managers are ones who guide and support on a big picture level.

This innovation management support can be developed in three ways:

  1. Help communicate progress.  Too often the R&D teams are so segregated from others within the organization, it’s your responsibility to make sure the work that’s being done is being effectively communicated to other departments.  This will ease minds when it comes to progress on projects and selling those innovations to the business division of your organization.
  2. Ask the right questions.  All it takes is a spark.  Sometimes the right question can push an innovation forward, or address a concern that perhaps the R&D team didn’t see during that ideation station.
  3. Be a voice for innovation.  You may not be a part of the R&D team, but your positive reinforcement can get even more out of them.  Ask encouraging questions, don’t drill them for updates.  In the words of Dr. Langer-Anderson, your job is to see what kind of value your team is bringing you.

One of the quotes she shared that jumped out at me was this:

“Creativity is the greatest rebellion in existence.” –Osho

Creative minds are the ones who break barriers and develop breakthrough innovations.  So as a leader to these creative minds, to gain true innovation, you need to develop a light, but guiding hand that can help your staff become innovative rebels.



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