Featured Product
This Week in Quality Digest Live
Quality Insider Features
Mike Figliuolo
No one needs recurring meetings, unnecessary reports, and thoughtless emails
David Suttle
What is breakthrough technology really capable of?
David Cantor
This article is 97.88% made by human/2.12% by AI
Daniel Marzullo
Think and plan more deeply with this exercise
Eric Whitley
Robotic efficiency coupled with human intuition yields a fast, accurate, adaptable manufacturing system

More Features

Quality Insider News
Pioneers new shape-memory alloys
A Heart for Science initiative brings STEM to young people
System could be used to aid monitoring climate and coastal change
A centralized platform and better visibility are key improvements
Greater accuracy in under 3 seconds of inspection time
Simplify shop floor training through dynamic skills management
Oct. 17–18, 2023, in Sterling Heights, Michigan
Enables scanning electron microscopes to perform in situ Raman spectroscopy
For current and incoming students in manufacturing, engineering, or related field

More News

Jeffrey Phillips

Quality Insider

Innovators Are True Believers

There is always a better way to do something

Published: Monday, April 6, 2015 - 16:22

After posting “Don't rock the boat innovation,” I was asked by a few folks a very interesting question. It was: What does it take to be a good innovator in a corporation?

It’s fairly easy to be an innovator in a small company or as an entrepreneur. In fact, you need to rock the boat in small companies or startups, or you’ll struggle to differentiate and grow. But what about large companies? What does it take to be a successful innovator in a large corporation? It takes either a culture that welcomes and encourages innovation or a true-believer mentality.

How do you do it?

We at OVO get to participate in a lot of idea-generation sessions. It’s interesting to lead these sessions and also to sit-in as a guest idea-generator. Because most of us have few filters, we are willing and able to generate any idea. (Ask me sometime about the credit card that zaps you with an electric shock if you use it too frequently.) So when we get all of these crazy ideas, people often ask: “How do you do it? How do you constantly generate such crazy ideas? Why are you so much better than us when it comes to generating ideas?”

The reason is: We are true believers. We believe that there is always a better way to do something. All it takes is a little insight, a little imagination, and a willingness to free yourself from your day-to-day constraints.

When an individual works for an organization, especially for a long time, he becomes part of its fabric and culture; he begins to think like the other people who work there, accepting core principles and cultural norms. Over time what seemed changeable seems permanent, and what seemed possible seems immutable. It’s exceptionally difficult to work for an organization for very long and not adopt the cultural biases, and typically those biases have to do with maintaining status quo, not creating new products or services.

The typical innovation project

On a typical innovation project there are three categories of participants.

Category 1: Those who are asked to be on the team because they’ve been successful within the execution engine. They know how to make the day-to-day operations work effectively. They typically try to force an innovation activity to look and feel like a normal day-to-day process, limiting its scope, and rushing to a decision.

Category 2: These people are subject matter experts. They’re asked to participate because they either have deep knowledge or can add a fresh perspective. Most don’t have a stake in the project’s outcome unless it materially affects their area of expertise. This is dangerous, because expertise and knowledge of existing models and methods overcomes their ability to consider meaningful change.

Category 3: This category is usually composed of people who are “available,” i.e., they are busy but have some time that can be spared for the innovation project.

What’s often missing from this list are what I’ll call true believers: people who are convinced that innovation is vital and important. Every company has a number of true believers, but they’re often considered problematic because they constantly ask why things are done the way they are. These true believers seek to do things differently; they suggest improvements or changes to existing processes or products. They are often the last folks to be asked to participate on an innovation project because they’re thought to be uncontrollable; they rock the boat, a lot.

Why do true believers matter?

True believers are unique and important to innovation for a number of reasons. First, many of them are dissatisfied with the status quo. They know that it’s possible to create better products and services. They want to see change, rather than seek to avoid it. True believers of any stripe, in any discipline, don’t allow a little resistance or public sentiment to bother them. They are willing to seek out new information and insight even if it conflicts with existing beliefs. They don’t allow barriers or roadblocks to discourage them. In fact, they often redouble their efforts when they encounter difficult barriers, while many more-complacent people give up, willingly.

True believers always believe there is a better answer, a better way. They’re never satisfied with incremental change, although they’ll accept it if it’s on the road to disruptive or radical innovation. They, like Steve Jobs, want to put a dent in the universe. These true believers are found in every business, in every country, in every walk of life. They are difficult to deal with day to day, but impossible to live without if you want to innovate beyond incremental changes.

These true believers can be a bit insufferable, and that’s why they are found so much more frequently in startups or as entrepreneurs. They believe in their ideas, their insights, and aren’t going to let a complacent culture, corporate inertia, or simple fear of risk and uncertainty to become a barrier to their ideas. And they are exactly what most corporations need right now.

We are living in an age of great technological and market upheaval, where the pace of change is almost unprecedented and the level of competition unmatched from almost any time since global markets unfolded more than 300 years ago. Money flows to where it can find its best return, anywhere in the world and at the blink of an eye. Consumer demand and market conditions shift rapidly. New competitors emerge in places that were unthinkable as competitive hotspots only a few years ago.

The people who can lead you out of your corporate inertia are the people you’ve most likely relegated to the sidelines—the people you know could be valuable but you haven’t figured out how to harness them yet. You need to engage the true believers in your organization—the people who want to create real, interesting change—and you need to do it soon. With the changes that are underway, playing a passive defense is not a strategy; it’s a recipe for oblivion.

Can you find your true believers and task them to imagine interesting and valuable new ideas? Can you clear the barriers and enable them to create valuable new products and services? Do you even know who the true believers are in your corporation, or have you tamped them down, and squeezed them out in the ever increasing goal of corporate efficiency and compliance?

What can you do?

Find the people who imagine interesting ideas, people who want to create change. It may be hard to distinguish them from chronic complainers, but with a little work you can sort them out. Instead of leaving them out of innovation projects, learn to work with and manage them successfully. Give them far more latitude to generate ideas, but in parallel give them clear targets to aim for.

Discover who in your organization has compelling innovation traits. The InnoTraits Assessment can help find the people in your organization who have the skills to innovate, if not the passion.

First published March 10, 2015, on the Innovate on Purpose blog.


About The Author

Jeffrey Phillips’s picture

Jeffrey Phillips

Jeffrey Phillips is the lead innovation consultant for OVO, which offers assessments, consulting, training and team definition, change management, innovation workshops, and idea generation space and services. Phillips has led innovation projects in the United States, Western Europe, South Africa, Latin American, Malaysia, Dubai, and Turkey. He has expertise in the entire “front end of innovation” with specific focus on trend spotting and scenario planning, obtaining customer insights, defining an innovation process, and open innovation. He’s the author of Relentless Innovation (McGraw-Hill, 2011), and 20 Mistakes Innovators Make (Amazon Digital Services, 2013), and co-author of OutManeuver: OutThink—Don’t OutSpend (Xlibris, 2016).


idea-generation session


Can you please give me some insight, how to conduct a 'idea-generation' session, what could be the creative agenda?