Dear Senior Executive

Dear Senior Executive,

I understand you’ve been given responsibility for innovation. I’ve heard on the grapevine that you’re excited about it, and planning great things. I think it will be thrilling to see what you create.

But I hope you’ll take a few words of advice from someone who has been in the position you’re now in.

Firstly, you’re going to have a hard time convincing anyone that your new responsibilities are important. Oh, everyone will say they think innovation is important, but when the rubber hits the road, they’ll be watching to see if you screw up the line-of-business things you’re responsible for now, not waiting to celebrate your innovation success.

So my first word of advice is to believe in your new responsibilities, even if most of the time you’re the only one who does. Success will come with time, if you let it.

Secondly, everyone will have an opinion on what you’re doing and all those opinions will be as far apart as the Earth and the Moon. There are no right answers if you have to run an innovation effort, but there is a wrong answer. The wrong answer is trying to satisfy everyone who has an opinion on innovation. If you try to do that, you’ll never get anything done. You have to believe in what you believe is right.

This is my second piece of advice: you are senior, and you are responsible. You aren’t going to make anyone happy with innovation no matter what you do. Every time you try something  new there will be winners and losers. So take my advice, and start new stuff regardless. If you wait for consensus, you’ll never be able to start anything at all.

Finally, you may be senior and empowered to make decisions, but the fact is you won’t be the one implementing them. You don’t have time, and anyway implementation will probably require lots of specialized skills besides your own.

Though you’re in charge, there are lots of less senior people who can do things to stop innovation.  They will never deliberately disobey and obstruct, but they will certainly go-slow if they don’t like or don’t understand what you’re doing. Change in any form is very frightening to those who aren’t making the decisions.

So my final piece of advice is this. You need to build your innovation effort from the bottom up as well as from the top down. The little people at the front line are just as important as the ones in the center who make the decisions. It is the front line and their managers, after all, who will be affected by anything you do. If they love your innovation effort, they will make sure you succeed. If they don’t, you will certainly fail.

My best wishes for your future success.

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