By Delony Langer-Anderson
New Product Development Specialist
3M Consumer Healthcare
Creating truly new products and services inside a corporation with a well-defined product development process can be a tough challenge for any team. Communicating progress during the turbulent front end of the innovation cycle is a critical and difficult requirement that often frustrates even the most experienced leaders.
However, champions for innovation can support their teams and communicate progress up the chain in a way that satisfies other's natural curiosity and need for details. As Delony Langer-Anderson explained during her presentation at this year’s 8th Annual Innovation in New Product Development and Marketing: A Frost & Sullivan Executive MindXchange, this type of communication simply requires planning and practice.
Successful innovation requires having the right people in place, Langer-Anderson said, as well as the right leaders to help those people succeed.
Innovation starts with chaos, but the right people will bring it to order from the so-called “fuzzy front end” to practical and applicable innovations. Talented innovators excel at turning the abstract into something concrete.
Qualities of Successful Innovators
What do those innovators have in common? Langer-Anderson listed these key qualities:
- They have a strong ego
- They take risks others won’t
- They have good communication skills
- They’re fed by the drive to discover
- They thrive when working on a wide variety of tasks
- They feel that work should be enjoyable
- They see possibilities not only in the present but in the future
Having the right attitude on the part of leader is also key, Langer-Anderson said. Leaders need to make their team members feel like they can be creative and innovative and take risks. It’s critical to create an atmosphere where people can fail without consequence so they no longer fear failure.
People need a creative space in order to be creative. That starts with leadership. This innovation process can be chaotic at first but it can be honed down into something more concrete. That’s how innovation is driven, Langer-Anderson said – encouragement, positivity, and the right questions can make the team more productive and more innovative.
Communicating for Innovation
The language and communication styles leaders use during the innovation process go a long way toward creating the ideal innovation culture. These are the keys to keep in mind, according to Langer-Anderson:
- Use powerful and emotive adjectives
- Encourage thinking about the big picture
- Give continual updates so the team knows it’s making progress
- Encourage creative innovation
- Allow for negotiation and disagreement
- Acknowledge and recognize flashes of creative brilliance
- Allow for mistakes
On the flip side, these are some of the mistakes to avoid:
- Being obscure and obtuse
- Letting imaginations run wild
- Ignoring creative thinking
- Imposing final judgments on views
- Restricting the ability to take action
- Isolating or disregarding others’ involvement, and
- Being abrasive.
Leaders must also avoid passing negativity onto employees, Langer-Anderson said – one bad day for a leader can lead to a bad week for everyone else.
It’s important to find creative ways of recognizing and encouraging employees, rather using the word “good” over and over again. Managers need to use varied language, Langer-Anderson said, listing several synonyms to use in place of “good”: neat, nice, exciting, platform building, smashing, brilliant, strategic, acceptable, terrific, fabulous, category changing, excellent, novel, ground breaking, unique, interesting, wonderful, competitive, and ownable.
Leaders must also make sure their asking the right questions, such as:
- What did you learn?
- What worries you?
- Do you need help?
- What can you show me?
- What are you most excited about?
Those questions will help get people thinking more about the project and move more toward the concrete from the abstract.
Language is key, attitude is important, and the mindset of a team and its leader are critical to coming up with the next big idea. When managing creative front-end teams, organizations can optimize interactions by using the right communication techniques, with varied language, open-ended questions, and strategies broken down into palatable bites in order to encourage creativity during the innovation process.