Defeating Devil’s Advocates to Become an Innovation Champion

In an organization, it’s human nature to resist change and to stick with the status quo that’s often more comfortable and safe. Some of your teammates in your company may be devil’s advocates who claim they want what’s best for the business while they oppose initiatives for Innovation. As a leader and innovator-in-chief of your company, it is critical to drive the culture of Innovation throughout the organization even in the face of opposition.

To defeat devil’s advocates, first you must examine why innovation efforts fail. A major reason is tied to an organization’s culture and its people. In a BusinessWeek survey of top-ranked companies in Innovation including Google, Apple, 3M, Toyota and Microsoft, the companies attributed their success to the avoidance of certain culture-related issues. These issues included Innovation that was only “lip service” – all talk and no support. Having isolated initiatives instead of an ongoing culture of innovation was a deterrent.  Fragmented support within the company was certainly an Innovation killer, as well as resources concentrated by certain innovation blocs.

So how does one defeat the devil’s advocates to become a true innovation champion for change? I asked Nic Hunt, Director of Innovation for an international manufacturing corporation, who takes a three-step approach.

  1. Define the desired culture. What does Innovation mean for your company? Quantify your goals, in terms of sales numbers and time frame, which will identify and justify the resources needed to achieve the goal. Identify who will be your key players from all departments within your organization.
  2. Establish the foundation. Create an identity or brand for innovation in terms of something the business engages with, that becomes the overarching theme for programs and initiatives created over time. Then establish the framework necessary to achieve Innovation, such as quarterly idea reviews, monthly development meetings, brainstorming sessions, off-site team activities or recognition programs.  Build a calendar and stick to it so these initiatives are taken seriously and do not fall off the map.
  3. Engineer sustainability. Develop a system that brings the Innovation program to life such as awards, patent recognition badges and innovator lunches. Share success stories of great examples of teamwork that led to superior outcomes. Create regular activities that help build a sense of purpose and spread excitement of the new innovation program. Building morale sets the stage for organization members to want to actively participate and have their voices heard.

A successful innovation strategy is multi-faceted and involves many methods, but leads to big pay-off in the end. For the full guide on achieving innovation, see “Robert’s Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival”.


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One comment
  1. Dave Strathmann

    July 18, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    Good leaders create an environment, as you described, that encourages innovation.  Great leaders learn the importance of making it ‘safe’ to put forth new ideas.  Feirong Yuan and Richard Woodman’s research, as published in HBR, April 2010, revealed the number one reason that employees so not put forth ‘innovative ideas’ is that they fear ‘image risks’, unfavorable impressions.  The best leaders realize that it is often the most experienced, highly successful executives and managers who are quick to make negative comments about ‘new’ ideas,  and this negative behavior must be first recognized, and second, curbed, if a safe environment for offering new ideas is to exist at all.  Comments like “We tried that before”, “That will cost too much”, “That will never work”, (we share 22 other comments like this in BulletProof manager training) must be recognized and squelched the moment they are heard in brainstorming sessions.  
    Dave StrathmannCrestcom InternationalBulletProof Manager Training


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