Last week, I was in a meeting and, as you do, I handed over my business card. I got what has become a very typical response: "Head of Innovation? You must have the best job in the bank!"
Whether or not I have the best job is immaterial here, of course. The real sum of this statement is the perception that innovation equals exciting.
The fact of the matter is a lot of what we do in our innovation team is rather boring. And, as the financial crisis flows around us, we're doing way less of the exciting work. I don't regret this, actually. It is the mark of decent programme, I think, that it is able to prioritise its investments in any way that makes sense considering the business climate.
And from our perspective, that means two things. We have to keep the business running, firstly, and secondly, we have to integrate our latest acquisition and release synergy benefits for shareholders.
Now, obviously, the kind of innovation you want with such priorities is quite different to that you'd generate if you were in different economic times. Today, the name of the game is short term wins, ones that don't distract you from your key objectives, and making sure you can demonstrate a return on innovation investments.
The best way to do that is focus on small, incremental things.
No innovator worth their salt gets up in the morning and imagines that today, they'll move a checkbox on a form, or investigate how to cut half a second off the queue length in the call centre. These things might not be ground-breaking, but they help pay the bills.
So, when I'm asked if I have the most exciting job in the world, my response is almost always "yes, but I try to make it as boring as possible". This usually gets me a raised eyebrow.
Whilst our bread and butter – as innovators – is the truly new, dealing with newness is a routine matter if you do it all day every day. Nothing there to get excited about. An idea arrives, it is evaluated, and it either executes or not.
What you have, when you have "the most exciting job in the world", is the complete opposite. Emotional engagement in specific initiatives. An ability to "drown the puppy" when things go wrong. And, above all, too little time to process enough stuff to get to scale.