Last night I had dinner with a friend I had not seen for a year. She is a very good friend but because of her schedule (super mum with super career) and my schedule we basically end up seeing each one once  year for serious conversations and dinner. It is a pity really and it needs to change (that for 2009!); but Monday’s dinner (at Tati Bistro, I should have selected Loire instead, foodie regret here!) brought out a discussion I recall having a few times: how do you groom innovators and how do you encourage innovation in an organization? In my reading list his week the Harward Business Review is dedicated to innovation and this article is bang on:

The tendency is rooted in false beliefs about how innovation works. Senior managers seem to assume that innovators spontaneously generate new ideas much as a magician pulls a rabbit from his hat—that if they simply leave these people alone, golden ideas will spring forth. Then sales, marketing, engineering, and finance people can decide how to implement and profit from them. In fact most revolutionary ideas evolve quite differently. Innovators propose new ideas. Various experts within the company sort through enormous amounts of information and often conflicting opinions. Then the innovators home in on the most critical components, see connections, and discern how to bridge different parts; they work hard and efficiently to recombine these pieces and cultivate internal buy-in for the innovation. The iPod is a case in point. The idea was originally conceived by Tony Fadell, a consultant Apple hired to develop new projects. An Apple engineering team assembled it from off-the-shelf parts and combined it with in-house design features such as Apple’s user-friendly controls. Having generated buy-in along the way, Fadell had little difficulty selling the result to senior management.

Take the time to read the online article as it explores how successful companies identify, groom, and place people who can master the innovation process. And surprise? It is not what you think! Potential innovators can be groomed but talk about finding a needle in a haystack in an organization and you don’t start describing the finding and grooming process…

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