The new innovators

The other day, I had the opportunity to address a class at the London School of Economics, a course in Innovation Management. What was exceptionally interesting to me was some of the questions the students asked about the practical application of innovation.

My first point, which I don’t think they found surprising, was that execution is the key to making things happen. Ideas are valueless by themselves. That’s why I don’t have much problem talking at these sorts of things about the ideas we considered and didn’t do anything with. Why are they valuable if you aren’t moving forward with them?

But I think what they may have been surprised about is the emphasis we put on sales. You can imagine, if you’re in a technology de2gree, that the last thing you’d expect is being in sales. At least, that’s what I imagined at that stage of my life. But that’s too bad because everything is sales. You don’t get to sit in a back room without talking to anyone. You have to drive outcomes, and that means influencing others.

What happens to innovators who fail to do sales? They get labeled the “gadget guys”, the ones with the cool widget who are going to be made redundant in the next downturn.

That’s a constant risk, of course, at the edge. And I made the point that managing to a returns number (actually, getting a number in the first place) is exceptionally important. When you’re in a bank (or anywhere really, I suppose), everything is about the number. If you don’t have a number, what are you? Incidental to the business, and not part of the business.

The nett-nett? If you’ve got business skills and no technology, you can be in the innovation space. But not the reverse. That’s rather like designing aeroplanes without knowing about wings.

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