Dec 06, 2012

Who wants to be an Innovator

December 6, 2012 - Thanksgiving gives time to read and I was struck by a quote from Marie Curie, one of the most famous female scientists of her time. She pioneered the research on radioactivity and changed the world. She said "Be less curious about people. Be more curious about ideas". She was referring to petty posturing and political in-fight of the scientific scene of her times. But she was also hinting at innovation - and made me think about what type of person can be a good innovator in our own space.

Over two years have come and gone since we started product innovation at Genpact. Had we followed a preset and tried-and-true path I would be working somewhere else by now - adaptation rules once more: this journey has been innovation on innovation itself. The results are there; it has been a long hard and satisfactory, even exhilarating journey.

And yes we have all gotten more grey hair. We have done innovation in a way nobody has – thousands of miles apart from each other, making services become products, and getting formerly service delivery or consultants with nothing more than portable experience become actual innovators – product innovation people, that is.

On reflection, what works, and what does it take to be an innovator working in a nontraditional way and with nontraditional resources?

  1. Focus on the market... Avoid becoming the back office of innovation. Even if you're far. You're not a sales person - but you really really really want the whole market to buy your product, which must force you to behave as if you were IN the market.
  2. and focus on the right things. Especially challenging for relatively young people who are far from the market. They may be working very hard on things that, well, they should have known wouldn't be worth working on. If the feedback from the market or from the head of innovation comes from very far, it is likely that it will not detect and expose micro time leakages on little things that waste time. Innovators who end up wasting time on nice-to-have activities typically get pruned. And rightly so.
  3. Don't think that marketing is only about pretty slides. Building a service product is first and foremost about telling a story and getting it right by iteration with the market. That takes great marketing. A rare quality that can be learned know that communication in marketing isn't just about making slides pretty…it is about making them readable in a few seconds.
  4. Be there for the impact, not for the creature comfort. Innovation groups aren't big, they aren't for those who want to tell their friends that they manage hundreds of people. Innovators work as orchestrators across resources who don't report to them. People with a need for power induced testosterone are unlikely to become great innovators – well, unless you're Steve Jobs. Innovation is for those who want to say – we sold something to ten clients this year, and it didn't exist before.
  5. Do speak your mind, and do forget your power play. Feedback is the lifeblood of  innovation. You need to get it and give it. Forget your face. Do forget it. It is about the baby you're creating…do accept that it may be ugly at the beginning - and get that feedback to make it better. And give that feedback in a collegial way - never do it in a way that puts down your talented colleagues. Obviously overly political people in innovation teams are bound to be fired.

Innovators are a rare breed. Innovation in fields and regions where innovation has happened mostly through super-human entrepreneurs aren't the easiest to find. Those who think they can do that, and for whom Marie Curie's quote resonates - I'm interested in talking to you.

About the author

Gianni Giacomelli

Gianni Giacomelli

Chief Innovation Leader

Gianni serves as Chief Innovation Leader where he drives and sponsors Genpact’s strategic initiatives aimed at sustaining clients’ transformation into digitally-enabled companies. He also co-leads the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) efforts to set up a Collective Intelligence Design Lab.