How do you identify innovation champions in an organization?

How do you identify innovation champions in an organization?

Unlike scrappy startups, and maverick organizations, innovation doesn’t happen with a snap of a finger in traditionally managed organizations; it needs fearless leaders.

As I mentioned in last week’s question-to-innovate, innovation is a team game, and there many types of people who can fill those roles. Today, I’ll touch on the “who do we unleash to make innovation happen?” part of the equation.

Most likely you are in a traditional organization where management still rules the day, bureaucracy can stand in the way or enable innovation. Let’s imagine that you’ve talked about and agreed that innovation needs to become more than simple talk in your organization. To make this happen, you’ve decided to unleash the hounds: the fearless and passionate people who don’t follow the rules that you’ve sat on the bench.

Still, who among these mavericks can really push through?

One hint is that your champion is someone who will benefit directly or indirectly from the idea. It doesn’t need to be a decision maker, but it does have to be someone who can influence decision makers.

Here are some more hints about innovation champions I’ve seen work inside traditionally managed organizations:

  • Connector. Someone who knows the right people in the organization that can open doors to resources.
  • Entrepreneur. Someone with an entrepreneurial spirit who believes things can be done differently, and isn’t afraid to get his/her hands dirty.
  • Leader. Someone who isn’t afraid of accountability to bring in the right ideas and subject matter experts and really help pitch ideas.
  • Storyteller. Someone who can craft a vision how things will be and tell it in an emotional way.

Too simple? It’s not. Frankly, you don’t need a checklist to know who’s an innovator. You’ll know it, feel it and see it.

But, as I’ve written before, most business leaders that run organizations are not innovators. If you are not an innovative leader (and you most likely aren’t), the best thing you can do to enable innovation is get the heck out of the way of the heretics. Your job is simple: eliminate obstacles in their way, not become an obstacle.

Bottom line: An innovation champion is someone who is willing to stand behind their idea and bring it to the next level, in spite of the system.

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  • Harvey Wade

    Jorge, love the post! For me, the key things that seems to come across in your post is the need for passion, perserverance and belief. You must believe that you are going to make a difference, have the ability to keep going despite what is thrown at you, and finally passion to get others to buy in!

    • Hi Harvey,

      Yes! Conviction is a must. If you don’t believe in what you’re doing then don’t do it.

      Thanks for the comment,


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  • Vitomir Rašić


    Right on the point there.

    Still, please take a look at some portions of your text that deserve better attention.

    1) “Most likely you are ………bureaucracy can’t stand in the way or enable innovation.”? I was thrown off side here, thinking that bureaucracy can’t stand in the way of innovation.

    2) “To make this happen, ….. of their fearless nature to now follow the rules.” I presume that NOT follow the rules was the goal?

    I hope this is not misunderstood as negative suggestion.

    Fellow blogger,


    • Vitomir,

      Thanks for the heads up. I cleaned it up 🙂