The Paradox of Innovation

This is the paradox – distinct but linked –  and this is critically important to success. Although it seems these would be exclusive characteristics of each other, they are certainly not. To truly survive and thrive, a new launch must live right in the middle of both distinction and connection. They must strike the correct balance, holding tightly to the life blood connections that provide for its growth while stalwartly resisting the influences and habits of where it launched from.  There can often be an uncomfortable feeling with paradox. The genius , as Jim Collins writes, lies in the ability of a manager to embrace the “and”.

F. Scott Fitzgerald stated that the test of top notch intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind simultaneously, and still be able to function.

This is what is required of managers who are involved with innovative new organizations and business units. It is important that there is an ability to embrace direct links with the core company, yet at the same time hold the idea that the two companies are separate from each other. The resources available to an existing organizations innovative launch are one of its greatest assets and advantages. This link, along with others, will be the life blood of the new organization. Start up companies do not have this luxury or advantage, yet they often win the race because they don’t have the paradox to deal with. They know what they are.  As a new launch begins to draw resources, there will be a natural tendency for the core company to expect a certain amount of influence in return. This is where core companies need to embrace the paradox of the situation for themselves. Success will come when they can see themselves as a platform for launch. They must believe in the innovation and the potential it has. Everyone involved needs to embrace the paradox that innovations must be distinctly separated in what they do, and distinctly linked to the resource engine. As change and innovation become more constant, this is where the potential for great success will exist. With this paradox in mind, here are few keys to success when it comes to existing organizations launching new and innovative business units.

Existing Organizations:

1. Think like an entrepreneur. Better yet, go meet with some entrepreneurs for lunch (you’ll probably have to buy because they’re most likely a bit short on cash). You’ll get a ton of energy and gain a lot of insight into what is needed for success in innovation.

2. Give your innovative leaders a seat at the table. Sure, you don’t want the “tail to wag the dog”, but you need their input and they need the ownership that comes from having a voice.

3. Realize that you better trust the person leading your innovation project like you trust a hunting buddy. You’ve got to know they have you’re back and are looking out for the best interest of everyone involved. Paradox will show its ugly head, and trust will be a significant factor.

Innovatives:

1. Understand and communicate the big picture of the organization as much as you communicate your own vision. You own and have energy for your own vision, but this often makes the home office nervous that you don’t get the “big picture”. You’ll gain a massive amount of leverage if the home office feels like you understand things from both sides of the table.

2. Choose your battles wisely, because you won’t win them all. You’ve got to let the little things slide and go win the big deals for your success.

3. Success breeds trust and confidence. Time spent focused on winning will often solve twice the problems that time spent focused on issues will. Go find a little success and watch your problems start to clear up and your support start to grow.

What have you found to be critical to success when it comes to launching innovations? As a leader, how to you handle paradox? Let us know your input on the subject.

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