Friday, July 17, 2009

Pulp Innovation Chapter Forty Two

In the office bright and cheerful the next morning. While I'm not a "people person", which is odd in a person whose gainful employment is in working with people, I felt rejuvenated by June. Just a few hours with her left me feeling great, refreshed, a believer in humanity again. In my line of work it can take a little resetting from time to time.

With the focus on Accipiter I'd let a couple of items slip. A few calls to Cantide and a quick update from Levantine took most of the morning, but I felt I had at least touched base with the folks who were waiting for me. That cleared the deck for a long think about Accipiter. One thing for certain, we had to get a good, clear scope defined for the effort, otherwise any result would be deemed a failure.

There were two items to pursue in parallel. One was easy. That was to generate a list of software firms that would license their solutions to Accipiter, rather than require a hosting agreement. Since most of the firms in the space were now software as a service, only a few firms would offer their code for installation and licensing. And of those, even fewer met the architectural requirements of Accipiter's CIO. He preferred not to introduce any technologies not already in house, so that eliminated any Lotus Notes solutions. Being a stickler for licensing and intellectual property, we also threw out any open source solutions. That meant there were only three or four viable firms to consider. We'd interacted with all of these firms from time to time, so lining them up to provide more information wasn't too hard.

At the same time we needed to establish the "going in" position for innovation - an operating model for innovation, if you'd like to think of it that way. We needed to establish the "rules" and expectations for innovation, and provide the programs and procedures to reinforce those programs, so innovation remained true to the goals of the organization. That meant getting executives to make decisions and provide clear goals and objectives, which is never easy. We'd get what we could, and make assumptions about the rest. In my experience, about 40% of any company strategy is made well down in the ranks, and percolates up once the mid level managers get tired of waiting to be told what the strategy is. More than likely, we'd see a healthy dose of strategy development by our team. Fortunately, we'd developed an innovation model that allowed us to ask questions and understand the initial goals and objectives of any firm. That model helped us help our customers think through their goals and objectives, and outlined areas of disagreement.

I assigned Matt to contact the software firms and ask them to prepare a short pricing proposal and demonstration for Accipiter. I pulled out our Innovation Model Facets white paper and used it as a guide to structure the work of getting the innovation model defined for Accipiter. We'd need to interview some of the top management, including Bill Thompson, Fred Phillips, the CEO of Accipiter and the HR director. The last one was always the hardest, because few corporations understood the link between innovation and recruitment, compensation and evaluation. A good HR team can help shift a culture very quickly, and also have a significant amount of influence over compensation methods and evaluations. These two factors - compensation and evaluation, can drive what people do, and what they are compensated to do, in an organization.

I called Susan to discuss my game plan.

"Susan Johansen."

"Susan, Sam Marlowe."

"Hello Sam. What's up?"

"Do you have a few minutes to talk about our game plan for the community?"

"Umm, yes, I'm free until 2, then just back to back for the rest of the day."

Here's a bronze medal for bravery in the face of dreaded corporate meetings.

"Great. I'll be quick. First, I've got Matt chasing down a short list of software vendors who will license their software. I expect we can line up four vendors who can provide some short demos as soon as early next week."

"OK. I'll ask Bill and Frank to put some time on their calendars."

"Second, I want to talk with you about the work we need to do to define the innovation community and understand the expectations and outcomes."

"We'd better schedule some time for that conversation". I could tell that she had some of the same concerns as I did.

"Yes. What does 4pm today look like for you?"

"I'm booked up, as I told you earlier. However, I am open after 10am tomorrow."

"OK. Can I get an hour of your time? 10 to 11 tomorrow?"

"It's on the calendar."

"I'll send you a short note with some of my thinking, then we can talk."

"Thanks Sam."

"Sure. Talk to you tomorrow."

I think Churchill said that the Russians were a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. I was beginning to understand what he meant. Often, working with Accipiter felt like I was chasing black cats in a dark room with a blindfold, never sure of my purpose or direction, and with no advice or coaching from the participants.

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