By Abeer Abu Judeh.
The race to innovate and dominate have never been more ferocious. Startups hustling on fumes and risking it all for the promise of a bite of the billion-dollar apple. Large organizations creating pompous labs and investing in fake startup type spinoffs to tighten their reigns over markets. Both facing challenges and having to compromise in order to innovate. Startups endless search for funding cows. In exchange for investments, they must grow fast and often beyond their limited business experience and capabilities. Large organization unable to think nimble or operate outside of the standard operating procedures.
With the understanding that a happy medium between the grow big and the adhere to protocol cultures is a misnomer, the secret to finding an organization’s next big idea may be hiding in unexpected places.
There is no one size fits all path. Each organization’s innovation strategy is dictated by the existing culture. To learn what works for your team, perhaps contained small scale experiments is a good starting point.
As in-house counsel at a Fortune 500 Organization, I was responsible for all technology agreements among other projects. In legal, technology and innovation were not a priority. One particular attorney fanatically maintained paper files. Literally printing every email, document record and organizing them in sky high file drawers. As a large organization avert to innovation, my requests for advanced solutions were met with hostility and then contemptable rejection.
With over 200+ agreements on my plate at any given day, managing my legal affairs was tantamount to putting out fires. After assessing my designated business unit’s legal needs, I established different pathways to organize my operations sans the paper files. I took control of neglected business units and implemented policies that effectively saved 66% on my outside counsel spend. My proudest achievement there was having rolled out a new pilot program to allow startup solutions to enter our system on trial basis. Small controlled groups of startups introduced to the system with the promise of improving patient services and experience.
After repeated pecking at the lack of innovation strategy, my boss tells me that our General Counsel appointed me to a newly created innovation team. I was finally given the sacrosanct opportunity to break things and let someone else cleanup - on a micro-scale that is.
I was born for this, huzzah!
At the first meeting, I introduced myself to 30+ teammates. The team was largely made up of high-powered executives with the ability to set your career back a few notches, a few dedicated soldiers with subject matter expertise and a solid number of IT associates ready to reinvent coding if necessary. We were led by a self-appointed business development executive with not one creative bone in his entire body. He did look sharp in a three-piece suit and, if I remember correctly, a perfectly matched tie and hanky!
My superiors from the legal department did not partake in the committee’s activities. Little did I know, all conduct on this committee was reportable and directly to the GC. In the moment though, I was free to express my opinions including the occasional WTF. The team’s bigwigs frowned upon usage of such language, especially the holy lead. I suspect there was a secret contest between the executives. You could see the wheels of creativity turning in their heads with hands ferociously taking notes. Who will deliver upper management the next penicillin? Most non-executive team members were paralyzed with fear averting their eyes and mumbling in disappointment. Others were just uncomfortable swerving in their chairs not knowing how to interact with the group.
The team lead opened the session by distributing a book, the Ten Types of Innovation, The Discipline of Building Breakthroughs.
He also ran the group through two brainstorming exercises involving coming up with a “name” and a “mission statement.” I am confident that he ran through this exercise all kinds of wrong because we ended up with a mission statement that included everything under the sun, the moon and the seven seas. We also went through an exercise to problem solve intelligently where the team lead was one of the lowest scorers. He was bewildered when he learned that he focused on the wrong angle of the challenge. His feeling of intellectual inferiority did not help the creative juices flow that is for sure!
The creativity team voted for and approved a not-so innovative product touted by the administration as the greatest thing that ever happened to a medicine bottle. The product was literally a rubber band similar to the one you get at a bar. The rubber band would be endorsed with a label of the indication for which you are taking the medication inside the bottle. Despite my objections riddled with inappropriate language, the rubber band won the innovation challenge. It was now my responsibility to oversee the organization’s ability to produce and sell the rubber band with a label. As a team player, I secured a formal opinion from an exceptional IP counsel. I personally vetted the attorney, negotiated a favorable flat fee rate and delivered the formal opinion and right to operate within 60 days. Boom!
Takeaways from my experience on team Create & PRONTO:
Throw out the book, please. If you don’t have it, reading about it is not going to help you brush up the old talent nugget.
A team lead is to be chosen by the team
and only after demonstrating some creative propensities. The role is not to direct innovation but to facilitate the logistics by creating an environment where genius could indeed shine. Ditch the suit!
Executives already had their day at creativity. Their current roles entail paper pushing, numbers crunching and super important decision making. Kindly, stay out of the kitchen.
While there are some exceptional executives worthy of creative team membership, they can’t be in the direct line of supervision over another team member. The team must have the freedom to engage full-heartedly in the process.
The first team member to report to upper management on anything other than ideas gets canned. No rats!
Focus on micro-cross-functional teams of around 6-8 members to avoid the cat-herding exercises. This also helps in delivering ideas that are business unit specific.
Sure, why not start with an exercise to come up with a cool team name and get swag to pump up the team spirit. Go team Create & PRONTO!
About the Author Abeer Abu Judeh an attorney, a fortune 500 executive and an innovation officer dubbed by Business Insider a “Rule Breaker.” Abeer has 15 years of legal practice experience holding various positions in big law, government and in-house counsel roles. As founder of LexDock, Abeer focuses on creating technology solutions to reinvent the manner in which legal services are rendered. With infinite passion for justice and technology, she paves the way for the democratization of the legal marketplace. LexDock empowers businesses with the tools necessary for them to manage their legal affairs in real time and on budget. LexDock was hailed by LawWeek Colorado as a “A New Marketplace on the Market” and was named by the National Law Journal “2020 Emerging Legal Technology Leader.”