Although I’ve been referred to as an innovation consultant, I’m don’t consider myself one. For an innovation consultant is one that is well versed in the tools and techniques of innovation, but I don’t believe most have the mindset of an innovator.
And this is where it gets interesting, because there is no innovation tool or method that addresses every situation and every need. The only Swiss Army Knife for continuously overcoming human nature (the enemy of innovation) is a fluid mind, with varied mental models, and the will to never get stuck.
To be clear, I’m not against using tools, I’m against using tools as a pretext for innovation. The “tools” approach creates the false belief that there is a single tool that, like a magic wand, will fix everything. And, the companies that are looking for that cookie-cutter methodology are just as dumb to believe that someone actually has one just for them.
Mindset first. Tools second. Tools won’t fill you with courage, mindset will.
Mindset, though subjective, is a defining characteristic of true innovators. It is very rare that the organizations that need it the most, big slow moving giants, will hire innovators. Think about it, would you hire an Elon Musk? A Steve Jobs? A Larry Page? People who are consistently challenging the status quo? People who are impatient? People who have a point of view?
Unless the organization has the “identity” of an innovator, they will look for that. The same holds true for innovation consultants. If the company looking for help has always looked for more tools, then the toolbox friendly consultant will be there to save the day!
Ironically, most of the consultants I know are in the “innovation management” area of innovation. Which basically means they don’t get their hands dirty. The tools do that for them.
The sad thing about it, is that there are MBA types (I know more than a few who came to me for work) coming out of college who are religious about Porter’s competitive strategy, Blue Ocean and the like, and fully believe that the tools will do the work for them.
For example, a few weeks ago I had one such consultant in one of my workshops. He came up to me at the end of the workshop, and the first words that came out of his mouth were something like “man, you really live this!”.
And I love to work with people, and organizations, that live it too. As I always tell people, most consultants don’t practice what they preach in their own practice, much less in their own lives. So why should you expect any different?
Now, there are a few consultants that I know who have the mindset and the war scars to show. Here are a few that I would love to work with on a project:
The only expertise we should claim to have, is that of recycling our learning from previous experience, and putting it into context. Because just because it worked for us in the past, doesn’t mean that it’s going to work again. We should be humbled by that truth, because most of the time, luck had a lot to do with it.
And after that, we should develop expertise in overcoming innovation inertia. Now that’s a real challenge!
This is my pet peeve, what’s yours?