'Tis the season for extreme politics and extreme weather conditions. This got me thinking, what could we learn from these two topics and how would they apply to Innovation teams?
Exact planning is impossible: The idea that you can 'scenario plan' every eventuality for a hurricane or for a post-Brexit UK is just insane. You quickly realise that there are just too many input variables and you are unable to articulate the possible outcomes.
Knowing 'where the big rocks are in the river': Just because it is nearly impossible to plan every eventuality, we should not ignore areas where, if something goes wrong, the consequences will be much more destructive. In both hurricanes and the Brexit debate, governments have identified key areas that need extra investment.
Stack the odds in your favour: By knowing where the biggest possible impacts might come from, teams should over-emphasise planning and discussions in these areas in order to mitigate the biggest risks. We see pre-positioned rescue teams in areas where the hurricane is due to make landfall and government staff being moved to critical areas where Brexit effects will be the greatest, like the Home Office.
So, all good and well for hurricanes and Brexit, but how do these relate to Innovation teams?
I find that many teams that are in the early stages of launching a new Innovation programme are overwhelmed by all the factors to think about. With areas such as technology, team structure, governance, culture change and programme management vying for 'share of brain power,' management can get easily overwhelmed. At some point they realise, 'Wow this programme affects the entire company, how can my little team manage this?' They need to realise that exact planning is impossible, but this does not mean that they should just 'wing it'.
As a coping mechanism to being overwhelmed, I suggest that the team focus on identifying the 'big rocks in the river' that will trip them up. This will change from company to company, but there are certainly similar challenges across all firms. Doing both a little research through reading the latest books on innovation/digital disruption as well as talking to people who have actually done the job, maybe in similar industries, helps to identify the major rocks.
Lastly, prioritise your efforts. Most Innovation teams start with one person and rarely grow into massive teams. This is absolutely fine but means that the team must focus their efforts to cover the areas where they are most exposed.
Bringing this together, Innovation teams need to think like their 'colleagues' at FEMA (https://www.fema.gov/). Realise that there are going to be hard times ahead (that is your job to fix), identify the potential pain points and over emphasise your efforts to cover them first.
Rob Kerner is the CEO of Inogesis as well as a consultant who works to help corporate innovation teams improve the impact from their programmes.