What is the difference between a project at the heart of the business (e.g. a product launch, process improvements, sales optimizations) and a ‘peripheral’ project (e.g. a service innovation, a wellbeing or a safety project)?
After 18 months on a project creating new wellbeing services, I would say: you just have more battles to fight for your ideas to get implemented. Because, to many stakeholders, you are second priority (optimist!) next to running day-to-day business.
These battles –and the victories – provide the adrenalin that keeps many entrepreneurs and innovators going (it’s the little Rocky Balboa inside all of us). However, when you and your ideals and ambitions are backed into the corner for the x-ed time, you might need a shot of espresso. Or five:
1. Ask yourself: who is my (real) client. When you like to do new things (Now! More! Fast!) and you’re not weary of change, people tend to ask you for help. A lot. At some point, you will probably end up doing too many things at the same time. You’ll run the risk your own project objectives are not met. So keep in mind what your client e.g. the project sponsor expects from you. What will help him move ahead?
Your ‘real’ clients are often end users. You might have a vision on what you want to achieve (and a plan and a budget paired to that vision). Check with the end users what part of your vision they are actually ready for, an almost obvious next step in their minds. Go for that in order to get the project moving. If a target group’s concept of wellbeing services is about “no accidents”, an obvious next step might be “no injuries”.
2. Stop inventing new stuff all the time. “I choose 2-3 things to do during a year and I focus on that,” a CSR manager told me. Faut le faire. A pitfall if you want to make things work, is to make a new service or product for every feedback you encounter. Keep your focus, dedicate your energy to simplifying your initiatives (how’s your elevator pitch?), work on one concept and make every single detail fit to it.
The CSR manager dedicated his time to implementing one social innovation: a food product made out of potatoes, manually harvested by minority groups, allowing these people a fair pay. Everything about this product just clicked together like a perfect puzzle. No puzzle ‘clicks’ if you are always creating new pieces.
3. Reinforce the story of your achievements so far. When faced with change or resistance, you might pick up on the negativism, get into emotional discussions. In order to avoid this, arm yourself with a good storyline. Know why you are doing the project (observations, facts!). Know your achievements (facts!). Cfr. point 2, the better your story ‘clicks together’, the less space for resistance and negativism.
4. Innovators, be there for each other. When your project is not advancing the way you would like it to, have a beer with like minded peers. Allow yourself to be angry and get it off your chest. But only order a next round if you are willing to stay out of the cycle of cynicism. No one has ever improved his life by b**ching about something and then doing exactly the same things as before.
Put the blocking factors on the table, make a top 10, discuss how you will tackle them. Make a deal to have some more drinks when you’ll have tackled the first one on the list.
During an innovation bootcamp weekend, our team had done too much divergent thinking. We lost the essence and even the belief in our business idea. We shared our frustrations. Then we got ourselves together, we cut away all the nice to haves and ended the weekend with the most solid and appealing business model pitch since the start of the bootcamp.
5. Fight your own battles. During a recent management gathering, we wanted to create a leadership experience in a time of tough reorganizations, simply by giving compliments in a surprising way. I briefed this idea to a colleague, who got rather enthusiastic about it, and who would in turn discuss it with the actual decision maker. The experience didn’t take place. The colleague lost the battle.
If you have a great idea, YOU should present and defend it yourself. Get a 5 minute timeslot, put your foot in the door, get in the same elevator with the decision maker by coincidence. whatever works. Passion does not take no for an answer.
And if you lose too? “At least lose on your own terms.” (Brad Gilbert’s pep talk to Andre Agassi during Roland Garros’ final)
Drink it while it’s hot!
P.S. If you want to read more about pairing the right activities to certain emotional states as an innovator, I recommend the article “Making The Rollercoaster Work For You” by entrepreneur Cameron Herold on Tim Ferriss’ blog. Herold describes a cycle of emotional states, an “entrepreneurial manic depression” most innovators go through, and how to cope with it rather than trying to change it.