It’s not uncommon that the person tasked to lead the innovation strategy for their organization has little experience “doing” innovation. We’re making great gains in understanding how innovation happens—McKinsey has identified eight strategic and organizational factors that separate successful innovators from the pack, for example—but the who is far more difficult to pin down.

There’s no silver bullet formula to guarantee innovation success and given the newness of the culture, we’re all innovation rookies at some point. Never before in history have we had the challenge and opportunity to innovate at the massive scale and speed modern technology empowers.

Those elevated to leadership roles in innovation today may have found success elsewhere—perhaps with a new product launch, a turnaround of a marketing program, or overseeing the implementation of a new system.

And if you are one of those leaders, you may be asking yourself, “How the heck can I be successful?”

Landing in this role means you have quite a bit going for yourself:

  • You understood the overall value to deliver, or job to be done.
  • You understood the stakeholders involved and their motivations.
  • You probably asked really, really good questions.
  • You were able to activate all of this and move the idea forward to something tangible and unique.

Success in innovation doesn’t come from having amazing ideas (as we’ve said before, ideas are cheap). Building on concepts, translating learnings, and sticking to your purpose is where the magic happens. What else should you have a crystal clear vision of before diving into the white space of innovation?

Take the time to map the innovation ecosystem of your organization.

Talk to the “usual suspects” of innovation (Corporate Strategy, Product Development, IT, Corporate Venture Capital. Et al.) as well as folks you’ll need to be very friendly with, for example regulatory, legal, compliance, and marketing. See Setting the Proper Groundwork for Innovation Success for more.

Understand the value your organization provides.

You’ll also want to flesh out the details of how it delivers that value, who benefits from it, and the competitive advantages that enable you to continue delivering it. Identifying ways to maintain and grow this could fill a portfolio on its own.

Know how to talk to users and customers.

If you’ve never conducted an interview, go do some—yes, today. Right now. Walk outside the building and talk to someone at a coffee shop. Knowing how to ask questions outside of, “Would you want this?” is critical. Get support involved, too—the depth and quality of information they bring may surprise you. Practice taking an outside-in approach to your customer experience research to move past the bias of simply confirming internal ideas with outside validation.

Define the purpose and objective of your innovation effort.

This is going to be as unique as the organization itself and helps set up what type of team, systems, and processes you’ll have. Are you going to be focused on disruptive “eat your own tail” type innovations? Or are you looking to grow products in adjacent spaces or differentiate them? Different objectives will most likely come to life in different ways. Practice keying in on your minimum viable idea to reduce bloat and scope creep.

Know the forces and trends that are affecting your company and industry.

You probably already know some off the top of your head. I like to leverage the tried and true STEEPLE framework to keep my thoughts focused. (Social, Tech, Economics, Environment, Political, Legal, Ethical). From here, you can layer on start-up funding activity and what your competitors are doing to have a strong lens to evaluate ideas and landscapes.

So, now what? This would be a heck of a start of building or maturing an innovation program, but there’s still plenty more to do. A grasp of each of these areas will serve as a strong foundation for your innovation effort and then help you decide on…


  • What are the skills we need to find and develop to enable innovation?


  • How do we generate ideas? How do we prioritize? How do we add fidelity and remove risk/uncertainty to unfamiliar concepts?


  • What systems are needed? What changes may help us close the gap between the innovation process and integrating into the organization?

Want to learn more? Keep reading with Is an Innovation Lab Right for Your Business? If you have specific questions or want to explore what an innovation partner could do for your business, get in touch with the team at Method.