One of the best things about working in Innovate UK is meeting some of the most remarkable companies in the UK, from university spin-outs to well established global majors. All of them successfully driving their business through innovation, and all with something to teach about the practice and process of innovation.
The right people at the right time
On a recent trip to McLaren, I met some of the F1 race team. They were talking about the way they need to manage the drive for creativity at different stages of preparing a car to race. In the early stages of developing a new component or car they need the widest possible range of engineering ideas to be explored. The wilder the better in the search for that little bit of ‘edge’. It is all about opening out and looking for new thinking.
As they begin to get into real development, they need to start making choices and closing down options to focus on the ones with the best chance of success. They can’t take every great idea through to production. And a bright idea that occurs after production has started can be a real problem to deal with. The creativity has to be more disciplined.
And when it comes to race day, they don’t want the team changing the tyres to have a great new idea to improve the process during the race. They need superbly drilled and honed execution.
The task will define the skills
Clearly you need different people with different temperaments and skills for each task. The free-thinking engineer with the ability to look at a problem from a different perspective might not be the person you need to make sure that a pit-stop team can change all four tyres and adjust the front wing in under 3 seconds.
Switching from innovation to execution
It is pretty obvious that the same thing is true of all kinds of business; switching from innovation to execution is likely to need different people. And yet this is precisely where many innovative young companies have trouble. The team that can create the innovative product or service, solve the technical problems, and bring it to market, is not the same team that can grow and scale the company.
A challenge for innovators
For innovator founders it can be particularly difficult. They may not be aware that they need to shift the balance of the team, they may not know how to identify and recruit the right people, and they might not know how to manage people who think very differently from them.
Moving from acquisition to retention
I saw this in action in a challenger mobile phone company. Their initial business plan was to acquire new customers as quickly as possible, and they were very successful at it. Eventually they started to mature and they needed to keep customers happy as well as acquire new ones. Recognising their need to focus on delivering long term to customers, they recruited people from more established mobile phone companies to manage operations. The clash between the buccaneering marketing types who had been growing the user base, and the serious engineering types running operations was titanic. Both were needed, but the leaders were unable to persuade them that they both needed to change their assumptions and ways of working, and mutual suspicion nearly pulled to company apart.
The need to switch backwards and forwards
Successful and growing companies have to figure out how to switch backwards and forwards between innovation and execution. Each is vital and requires different skills, rarely found in the same person.
So it is a good idea to start planning for success as soon as possible. If your innovative company really is capable of rapid growth, what is you plan for switching from innovation to execution? Who is your team for that stage of the business?
Follow me on Twitter: @miller_klein
You can follow Innovate UK on:
- Innovate UK Twitter @innovateuk
- For more Innovate UK videos subscribe to our YouTube channel here
- Sign up for email notifications on funding, connections & support opportunities
- Follow Innovate UK on Facebook
- Connect with Innovate UK on Linkedin