Tel-Aviv: How to be Superman/Wonder Woman? 8 types of innovation managers in organizations

At the end of Amazon’s Catalyst Meetup Panel in September 2019, we presented a model showing 8 typical innovation managers we have encountered in organizations over the years (allegedly). We analyzed them according to 3 primary dimensions: role, culture, and budget.  

ROLE defines what you do in the organization: what level of full time activity is available for managing innovation in the organization, who the innovation manager is subordinate to, and whether the manager leads a subordinate team. CULTURE relates to how open the organization is to innovation, and how much it wants to see changes actually happening. BUDGET determines whether a designated budget exists for this area, and how limited or expansive it is. 

These aren’t definitions that can be encompassed with a yes or no response; they’re on a scale. It’s interesting and valuable to examine how strong each of these three variables is in your organization, and what type of innovation manager the cross-dimensions create: or in other words, what you can expect to experience in this role in the near future.

The frustrated type (organizational culture only) – leads innovation in the organization and has tons of motivation to see innovation in the field, but doesn’t have a clear role definition, and doesn’t have a defined innovation budget. The most likely experience will be major frustration in both the ability to see actual change come about and in continuity.

The publicists (role definition only) – The innovation manager has a clearly defined role, and sometimes a strong supporting team, but there’s no openness or willingness in the organization to introduce innovation, and no designated budget for it. We’ll probably hear a lot of noise about innovation and any number of declarations, followed by very little action.

The producers (budget only) – If the only thing you’ve got as the innovation manager is a budget, even if it’s humongous, it’ll probably go to producing some kind of event. My guess is it’ll end up as a hackathon or some similar type of innovation related event which goes nowhere the day after. The producer type is different from the publicist type in that the former doesn’t talk a whole lot about innovation and instead gets down and dirty, gets things done. But without someone who knows how to take the reins the next day and continue, the budget produces an internal or external event, and that’s it.

The hilltop flatteners  (culture + role) This is a designated group of innovation managers who’ve got a clear role definition, a designated team, and the organization’s really open to innovation, but there’s no designated budget. Hilltop flatteners will move mountains and turn worlds upside down, will make it possible for innovation to enter at no cost, will successfully shift significant changes in the organization, but none of that can be duplicated nor does it have continuity over the long term.

The pilots makers (role + budget) – If you’ve ever come across one of these, you’re in decent shape. They’ve got a role, a designated team, and a fantastic budget. There’s just one small problem: the organization hates innovation. The pilots makers lead tons of processes, they’ve got budgets to run pilots, but that’s where it stops: predominantly at the stage of pilots, without moving forward to integration.

The buyers (culture + budget) – They’re lucky, in that they’ve got a culture that’s open to innovation, and a really great budget, but no designated manager, and the organization is stuck on the idea that innovation means changing the definition of acquisitions. Let’s define the technology we want, and because there’s a budget, let’s look at the acquisition options, define them, examine offers, and make our purchase. There’s no internal or external process, and the knowledge inside and outside the organization doesn’t matter to organizational processes. Innovation for them is a shelf product which offers a new solution.

The actors (no culture, no role, no budget) These people are actors in the theater of innovation. They speak of innovation, but it’s not entirely clear what their talk is based on. There’s no structured or orderly process. There’s no mama and papa for innovation, and external technology companies primarily feel incredibly frustrated when working with them.

The supermen/wonder women (culture + budget + role) – These are the big stars in the field. They’re blessed: a clear role definition, a team and an extensive budget. And the whole organization is thirsting for the next set of moves. We want to see more of those types, and we want to help you all become those types.

The bottom line question is: how can we all help each other to advance towards that center position where the superheroes are?

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