As Warren Buffett has written, it’s not until the tide goes out that you know who is swimming naked.
The new Texas Enterprise business and public policy news site just launched from The University of Texas at Austin, where Jeffrey Phillips, VP Marketing for OVO Innovation and author of Make Us More Innovative, recently discussed six archetypes or roles that senior executives play in fostering (or poisoning) innovation within their organizations.
The first role or archetype is the Visionary. In this case think Richard Branson from Virgin. He has big ideas about transforming a number of industries. His is the public face of the company and he seems to be the motive factor in Virgin’s innovation efforts, yet he can’t possibly be an expert in so many different fields. He has one belief — that he can bring the “Virgin” way to many different industries and force them to respond.
Brainiacs are often Visionaries but they themselves are also the source for many of the ideas that are implemented. Steve Jobs is my archetype for the Brainiac. He is the public face for innovation and I suspect the source for many of Apple’s ideas. He leads a very top down driven innovation program and is active in the program as an idea generator, communicator and lead user.
There are many executives who understand that this is the best role they can play in their organizations where innovation is concerned. Jeffrey Immelt at GE springs to mind. He is constantly spotlighting work within the many divisions of GE that is innovative, and works hard internally to champion innovation, including providing funding for the efforts. I don’t think Immelt is necessarily a Visionary and I’m relatively sure he’s not a Brainiac, but his efforts in Cheerleading are key to the changes and focus on innovation within GE.
Far too many executives feel they must play this role. Rather than a constant cheerleader for innovation, their investment and engagement in innovation ebbs and flows based on the needs of the business. If another firm creates an interesting new product or revenues slip, he or she bangs on the podium and demands innovation. In good times, there’s little emphasis on innovation. The reactionary creates a lot of resentment in the organization for those who want to innovate, due to all the false starts and stops.
Many executives will encourage innovation initially only to back away from full support. Their response is “let’s wait and see”. Innovation is too difficult and too fragile in its nascent stages to thrive without executive support, so the bystanders usually prove their own suspicions by watching the innovations fail, when with a little more engagement or support those activities could have been successful.