One afternoon on the eve of the Great Recession, I was a panelist at an innovation and design event in New York City. The timing was ironic, to say the least.
I can still remember the climate of doom that day and throughout Fall 2007. There was lots of whispering in the hallways of Corporate America; people just looking at each other, not knowing what to say, but aware there was plenty to worry about. We knew things were never going to be the same again.
The audience that afternoon sought perspective about how innovation would continue despite this new, as yet undefined reality. Businesses were about to batten down the hatches. And startups? What would happen to them? Would investors back away?
The three words that stuck in my mind from that day as an antidote to even the most extreme lack of resources:
“Constraint breeds creativity.”
Here’s the paradox – we never seem to have enough resources but there are always abundant resources for those who have the mindset, will, and decision-making capacity to influence their environment. What has been an eye-opener for me personally – and what enables those who give life to their nascent ideas — is how much can be done with so little when the team is resourceful, able to ditch self-limiting status quo assumptions, and find simpler, faster, cheaper, good enough answers.
Resourcefulness takes creativity and grit.
If you get to pick up a copy of my book, you can read in Chapter Three the story of a founder who landed funding and a significant pilot partner for a medical device, based on a V1.0 prototype built from parts scrounged in an auto parts junkyard, which he was able to clean up and convert into a good enough proof of concept. Now, several years later, the business continues to move through the arduous testing and approval process demanded of medical devices, and is going strong. The journey started with a determined founder who saw the possibility of great value in other people’s junk as the means to advance his vision.
Resourcefulness can be a force multiplier for getting more out of whatever funds, technology, workspace and talent you have, and to see resources where others may not even bother to look.
Reframing opens up new ways to operate.
I learned as a corporate innovator that success requires anyone introducing change not to accept the way things have always been done and to stretch their creativity to dream up and implement other ways – all the while not disturbing core processes upon which the earnings machine depends.
If you have ever tried to introduce a transformational product to an established enterprise – whether as an innovator inside, or as a B2B startup selling in your product – you have faced potential defeat by those folks to whom my corporate teams would refer as business prevention units. These are the well-intentioned middle managers paid to protect the company from risk. Guess what? Anything unfamiliar raises the prospect of risk within a culture where predictability has always been essential. These people generally lack the authority to override the rules they are there to enforce. So asking them for exceptions will likely invite bureaucracy, cost precious time, and lead almost without doubt to “no”.
One path to breaking through is to reframe governance for innovation risk decisions. How have I seen this happen? In one case, a team started by proactively allowing visibility into plans. They began holding periodic innovation risk review with the top-of-the-house executives over all of the relevant functions – legal, compliance, risk management, info security, tech, brand. This allowed them to preempt issues, put decisions more quickly into the hands of the right people, and, as a side effect, build enormous goodwill because of their transparency.
Leaders who reframe the “how’s” for creating and validating a prototype, defining a business model, procuring funding and moving towards scale inspire their teams, and role model resourcefulness in action. Team members whose own behaviors are compatible – those who are creative, listen, collaborate and are good dot connectors – feel safer proposing better ways to execute.
Simple recommendations are not easy to execute. They take leadership.
As is the case for other elements of the Seek, Seed, Scale framework, what I am proposing falls into the camp of “easy to say, hard to do.” I won’t dispute that, because leadership is hard, especially given the market, organization and business model dynamics creating pressure for any leader in any company. There is no practical way through these challenges, especially as an innovator, without a daily ability to be resourceful.
I am enjoying partnering with founders and executives, finding and implementing creative and resourceful solutions to moving insight and ideas to implemented, commercially viable products and services. Please reach out to let me know how I might help you, as a guest speaker at an upcoming event, or in an advisory capacity.