How to advance your career as a corporate innovator
It’s not easy being a corporate innovator. You’re often under-resourced and not fully understood or supported by the rest of the organization. So it’s difficult to make progress both in terms of driving innovation and building your career.
I asked three innovation experts to share their advice for innovation managers in large organizations - Alex Osterwalder (CEO, Strategyzer) Gina Mitchell (Program Director, Strategyzer) Tendayi Viki (Partner, Strategyzer) and Jeremie Oberson (Head of Product, Strategyzer.) Here’s what they said:
Speak to your senior leaders and put yourself in their shoes. Try to deeply understand what their constraints and anxieties are.
Seek first to understand, then to be understood. - Steven Covey (Author, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)
Once you understand your leaders better, you’ll be more likely to demonstrate the benefits of innovation in a way that resonates with them. If you get them on board early, it’s going to make your life a lot easier later on.
The customer profile is one tool you might find useful for visualizing your findings. Use it to help you map out the jobs, pains and gains of your senior leaders.
A basic example might look something like this:
This is a basic example of what mapping out a customer profile of your CEO might look like
The customer profile isn’t something you need to get ‘right’ immediately. You can come back to it and update it over time as you learn more about your senior leaders.
The example we’ve given above is simplified. We only included the top jobs, pains and gains.
First you want to identify as many jobs, pains and gains as possible from your CEO’s perspective. The next step is to identify their top jobs, pains and gains (like we’ve done in our example.)
Understanding your CEO is going to help you empathize and communicate more effectively with them.
Bonus tip: As an innovation leader in a multinational corporation, it’s likely you’ll be traveling between different markets a lot. Book in time to meet the leaders of your regional business units in every market you visit. This will help gain insights into how best to work with them and their teams. Don’t forget to update your customer profiles as you learn more about them.
You need to find ways to show senior leaders that supporting innovation efforts will help them achieve their own goals.
Don’t try to argue with them about what you should be doing as a company. That never works. Instead, show how adopting a culture of innovation can help them achieve their vision for the company. - Alex Osterwalder
Once you understand your leader’s constraints and how to help them navigate them, you’ll become indispensable and ultimately make huge leaps forward in your own career.
The value map is a great way to help you identify how innovation will help your leaders achieve their goals.
Here’s what your value map might look like and how you help address the pains and gains of your CEO.
In the above example, your gain creators are:
These things are what will help your CEO achieve their goal of having a new $1b business model.
The pain relievers are:
These will help your CEO overcome the challenges of having to meet quarterly earnings targets and also new business models over the long term.
This will help your CEO understand how you can maximize your investment in innovation and minimize waste.
You don’t need to show the Value Proposition Canvas to your CEO. But it will help you understand their situation a lot better. Even if it’s not 100% accurate, the process of putting yourself in their shoes is inherently useful. You can improve the Value Proposition Canvas over time.
Canvases and slide decks are useful for consolidating and visualizing your insights but the ultimate way to show that innovation has value is to get some tangible results for your company.
Leadership is more easily influenced if the stories we tell are less abstract i.e. real successes that have happened in the company. - Tendayi Viki
One of the most important things you can do to build credibility and trust with your leaders is to get some quick wins under your belt as soon as you can. This is especially important when you are new in the role or company.
Initially, you might focus on efficiency type innovation as this can produce results faster than more transformational innovation projects.
When they see the impact you're having, this will help you gain support for longer term innovation projects. It will also ease the pressure for those projects to show results immediately.
If you’re early in your career as an innovation professional or new in your role, you’re unlikely to have the full trust of your leaders yet. One way to build that trust quickly is through asking industry experts and peers who have done it before to speak to your leaders. This is likely to help get your leaders on side with the need for business model innovation and it will start to help them understand the commitment that’s required to make it happen.
When I was working on an innovation program in Thailand, we brought in local entrepreneurs to speak to senior leaders during pitch sessions. We made sure the entrepreneurs were already applying the methodologies that we wanted to adopt in the organization. This helped senior leaders see the relevancy of what we were trying to do internally and what the results could look like for us. - Jeremie Oberson
Make a point of recognizing and celebrating colleagues who demonstrate the behaviors you're trying to foster in your organization. No matter their level of experience or seniority. This will encourage them to keep going. It also acts as a model for others in the organization to follow.
Sharing success stories is like internal marketing for your innovation efforts.
After reading a few books or watching a handful of TED talks, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing you’re an innovation evangelist or an innovation guru. Trying to be the savior of your company or an innovation know-it-all isn’t going to help you advance your career as an innovation professional.
Remember to be humble. Don’t think that you’re the only person in the company who knows anything about innovation. Respect the progress that has already been made before you joined. - Gina Mitchell
Nobody cares how many innovation methodologies you're an expert in. Try to provide value instead of evangelizing the method. One way you can do this is by making your workshops practical.
On day one of innovation training I make everybody (no matter how senior) get out the building and speak to customers. They learn more from this exercise than any theory I try to teach them back in the office. - Jeremie Oberson
Learning as much as you can internally is really important. But so is focussing externally. Try to build a strong network of peers. You never know when it might come in handy. Learn from what others across industries are doing. Try to participate in panels and discussions. Conferences often search for speakers from multinational organizations. So don’t be afraid to contact them for opportunities to speak and participate. These types of things are such a big part of the career development aspect.
Sometimes, managing innovation in an established business can feel like pushing a big rock up a hill, then having it roll back down and needing to push it back up again and again. It can be really disheartening, especially if you believe in your work, your methodology and your why. If you don’t see at least some incremental improvements, don’t be afraid to leave your company. In some situations, that’s the best thing for you and your organization. Imagine the impact that you could have somewhere else if you’re properly supported.
If you’d like more tips on how to drive innovation in your company and how to grow your career as an innovation professional, Tendayi Viki (Partner, Strategyzer) wrote a fantastic book called Pirates in the Navy and you can check it out here.
Also, check out this video of Alex Osterwalder sharing his tips for corporate innovators looking to grow their careers.
Another great way to advance your career as a corporate innovator is to participate in one of our virtual masterclasses. You can find out more here.