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Innovation Roles for Innovation Managers

The Management Centre

So you want to help….Innovation Roles for Innovation Managers

I’ve been doing lot of work lately for charities on innovation – which Philip Kotler calls “the only sustainable advantage.” The work covers big charities like UNICEF International and smaller ones like the RNIB, a UK disability charity. We’ve been doing a number of different things for these charities but one issue which emerges all the time is: what role should mangers play?

There are a number of roles individual managers can play in stimulating innovation in non-profit organizations. Why not explore the role or roles your organization needs from you?

Mentor: The mentor adopts individuals or even ideas, ensuring they achieve their full potential. He or she cuts through bureaucracy to ensure innovation wins through and is recognized at the top. Mentors can agree to specific support and organize connections with key decision makers. Does your organization need you to be a mentor? Who or what should you mentor?

Gardener: The gardener ensures that the organizational culture (a garden) sustains experimental ideas (plants). The gardener can nurture ideas in their early stages, but there also comes a time when ideas have to grow by themselves. Is your organization an “innovation garden”? What would you change to make it so?

Talent scout: The talent scout, like the mentor, focuses on individuals. But the key is seeking talent from outside – new employees, temps, interns, secondees or even consultants. Organizational energy is created through an influx of fresh blood. Does your organization need talent? And if so, what kind?

Catalyst: In science, a catalyst produces radical change in a normally stable substance. In innovation, it’s someone who brings together diverse elements – teams or individuals – to create a reaction. (Note that once you create the reaction, you can’t control it.) Who could you bring together to create a dramatic reaction – donors and beneficiaries, perhaps? Who could work on a problem in a radical, new way?

Mash-up artist: In music, a mash-up artist mixes sounds to create something new. An innovation mash-up artist combines and controls in an organizational sense. He or she tears down silos, links unlikely ideas and brings in oddball outsiders to challenge current thinking. Unlike the catalyst, he or she directs the process. Are you a mash-up artist capable of choosing elements and combining them in unusual ways?

Ethnographer: An ethnographer studies human behavior across cultures and generations. In an innovation sense, he or she searches for needs not yet met or even fully expressed by the organization’s donors and tracks how donors use the website, then changes it to meet these needs. Which donors might you study to gain some insights into how to change your work? What insights might that offer you?

Venture intellectual capitalist: This role is a budget-holder with a free rein and the ability to spot long shots. He or she sustains a portfolio with fast-return and high-ROI projects. It’s important to allow the VIC to be judged across a whole portfolio over time rather than on a case-by-case basis. Could you get your hands on a budget? And if you could, what would you support with it?

How should you choose a role? Well, partly based on what the situation demands and what would work best in your culture – note that what might work best might be quite antithetical to the culture. Think too about the skills and competencies you’ll need if you’re the innovation agent.

I’m happy to hear comments on this typology. Especially if you can add to it or give examples where one or more has worked or not.

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