Are you Managing or Leading Innovation?


I like the statement – “Manage process and lead people”. But what about innovation? We still struggle to understand if it is process, or people mindset, or some combination.

We know innovation is a lot about exploratory action and Leadership that empowers action. There is still room for managing it particularly in corporate setting, which must manage risk.

Innovation Managing and Leading

Innovation, Managing, and Leading

There is a lot written around managing vs leading, as applicable to people, processes, and business. Some of that when viewed through the innovation lens, looks like:

InnovatorsInnovation ManagersInnovation Leaders
Solve complex problemsControl complexity in developmentTransform company, industry & ecosystem
Develop new products & servicesDeliver to the roadmapCreate vision, strategy, and roadmap
Create future they conceivePredict the future based on trendsPrepare for the unpredictable future
Deploy their expertise to resolve situationsOrganize, staff, and manage resourcesAlign expertise and offerings with markets
Create new outcomesPrevent negative outcomesPromote positive outcomes
Be creative and exploreControl creativity and experimentationEmpower people to experiment and learn
Develop their expertiseAssess the expertise and fill the gapsProactively fill gaps to required expertise
Build relationships of valueRe-structure to accomplish goalsCreate relationships to be highly effective
Do it the way they know bestDo it the right wayDo the right things
Defend their viewpointSell solutions to get everyone on boardAcknowledge & surface healthy conflict
Collaborate, learn, & produceMotivate but control collaborative practicesInspire collaboration and learning
Strive for excellenceMaintain a Center of ExcellenceBuild a Network of Excellence
Want to feel importantWant to look importantMake others feel important
Compete and collaborate as requiredCreate competitive strategies to winCreate collaborative strategies for win-win
Focus on Innovation Value ChainFocus on Innovation FrameworkFocus on Innovation Purpose and Mindset

In Summary,

An innovation focused organization needs all three roles – leaders, managers, and innovators. I emphasize the term ‘ROLE’ and not ‘TITLE’. I have seen CTOs actively engaged in technical discussions and engineers creating vision and collaboration with competitors for a win-win. 

A successful innovative organization allows a bit of all three across all its staff – from technician to the C-suite. That cross over through working meetings and casual chats, in person or virtual, promote sound teamwork, transparency and integrity, and internal empathy; so much needed to be adaptive and agile.

If you like this blog post, you will like my book series “Inspiring Next Innovation ….” available on Amazon and summarized in these book launch webinars on YouTube.

For Leaders

Inspiring Next Innovation Purpose,

Available on Amazon Watch on YouTube                               

For Innovators

Inspiring Next Innovation Value Chain,

Available on Amazon Watch on YouTube  

For Managers

Inspiring Next Innovation Framework,

Available on Amazon Watch on YouTube     

For Leaders

Inspiring Next Innovation Mindset,

Available on Amazon Watch on YouTube

To engage with the author – please register for upcoming virtual sessions.

Why Not Start with a Why Not?


There has been a lot of hype about Start with the Why on social media, after the Ted Talk by Simon Sinek, and his book in 2009. I am personally having a tough time with that.

Why Not Start with a Why Not

Innovators question more than comment.

I strongly feel that innovators and trendsetters start with a ‘Why Not’ in their hearts. It most likely leads to the ‘Why’ as a form of expression to engage others. Novel solutions come out of asking ‘Why not’ and they get communicated with ‘Why’.

So, I engaged many fellow innovators in a debate of ‘Start with Why’ vs ‘Ask Why Not’ and I was quite encouraged to learn that so many of them have been able to solve tough research problems and customer engagements by coming up with wacky ideas and asking their team “Why not we do …this…?” “Why can’t we try … that …”  A good friend Dr. Pavan Suri felt that these may be two sides of the coin and which one comes first is a tossup. Is it?

I also found the following quotes, which further substantiated this.

The common question that gets asked in business is, 'why?'
That's a good question, but an equally valid question is, 'why not?'
                                                     - Jeff Bezos
You see things; and you say ‘Why?’
But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?’
                                                     - George Bernard Shaw
Others have seen what is and asked ‘why’.
I have seen what could be and asked ‘why not’.
                                                     - Pablo Picasso
‘Why not’ invest your assets in the companies you really like?
As Mae West said, 'Too much of a good thing can be wonderful'
                                                     - Warren Buffett
Why pay a dollar for a bookmark?
‘Why not’ use the dollar for a bookmark?
                                                     - Steven Spielberg
I remember my dad asking me one time, 'Why not you, Russ?'
You know, why not me? Why not me in the Super Bowl?
                                                     - Russell Wilson

As a consumer, you go buy the product that gives the best value, not why the business owner is in business in the first place. Apple products sell because of the finesse and performance not because of why Steve Jobs was in business. However, I submit that when business leaders have a strong Why statement, they align the employees on that purpose, and the resulting products and services are excellent, which the consumers flock to, helping the business grow.

Once the purpose is defined and a culture of questioning can be built, the golden circle can have an innovative sibling. Innovative solutions come out of “Why not” and get communicated with “Why”  to convince the buyer.

In Summary,

Why not? How about? And what if? define an innovator’s mindset.

If you like this blog post, you will like my book “Inspiring Next Innovation Mindset” available on Amazon

If you wish to engage with me in a conversation on innovation mindset, please register for online session scheduled for April 1 2021 at 9:00 AM to 10:00 AM ET co-hosted by Nerac.

What do I believe I do !


I love to coach not just consult. I like to inspire not just motivate. What is the difference?
Perhaps it stems from the fundamental premise that I have a purposeful practice and not a business.

What do I believe I do!

I do not like to consult.

There are many phrases that describe a consultant, some respectful and some in lighter vain. I see myself as a coach and here are how the two roles differ in my mind.

[table id=3 /]

I must admit that I sometimes struggle to develop a good connection with many clients who are only used to working with contractors and vendors. But once leaders understand that good coaches push hard for a good reason, it becomes easy. There are times when I am wrong, and we all have a learning moment.

I do not like to Motivate.

Too often, managers and consultants are focused on motivating their people and teams to do something. Well, it works. However, I have been fortunate enough to work in environments where the need for influence without authority was the norm. And that led to an appreciation of the term ‘inspiring’.  Inspiration lasts beyond jobs, and titles.

[table id=4 /]

I do not run a business.

Just because I have a registered legal business entity, does not imply that I run a business.

A business sells a product or service, and its marketing and focus is typically more directed at that commodity being sold (product or service).  It has a management structure because it is aimed more at sales than billable hours. There is a myriad of pricing models, but a business (as I’m using the term here) is more likely to charge and collect in advance for the product or service being sold.

A practice is where individuals provide services, professional or otherwise, to clients. A practice typically bills for services at or after the time they are rendered. The key to a practice is the reputation and competency of the individuals providing the services.

Business must focus on financial gains as a key performance indicator. A practice serves a purpose usually social or professional, with financial metrics as enablers for sustainable continuation.

The two need different mindsets, different trainings, and different business models.
I choose to run a practice.

In Summary,

I like to practice purposeful innovation coaching, rather than innovation consulting business.

If you like this blog post, you will like my book “Inspiring Next Innovation Mindset” available on Amazon

If you wish to engage with me in a conversation on innovation mindset, please register for online session scheduled for April 1 2021 at 9AM ET co-hosted by Nerac.

5 Items for a Good Ideation Session


Out-Of-The-Box ideation still needs a well-boxed upfront planning, an expert facilitator, and a disciplined approach to post processing.

Planning an Ideation Session involves these steps.

Ideation Session


While you need out-of-the-box thinking during the ideation session, you need a fairly well-defined box when it comes to defining the challenge problem or the objective of the session. These objectives can be at any level – purpose, strategic, tactical, operational, project subject matter, etc. The objectives are typically focused on how and/or what; and occasionally on discovering the purpose (why). Some examples include …

  • How can we save corals and marine life from chemical waste (purpose)?
  • How do we use Industry 4.0 for the development of a special child (purpose)?
  • How to go through digital transformation in the next 3 years (strategic)?
  • What will be the impact of industry 4.0 on our business (strategic)?
  • How to grow the business by 5X in 5Years (strategic)?
  • How to expand the market in the Asia Pacific region (tactical)?
  • How can we design a compact high temp storage box (technical)?
  • How to reduce the component weight by 22% (technical)?
  • How to recover from schedule variance (operational)?
  • What can we do to help the customer accelerate production (tactical)?
  • What set of technologies can we develop for a smart home market (technical/strategic)?

If the objective is too large or broad, then I suggest a series of sessions, structured hierarchically. A theme (from a cluster of ideas) at the strategic level becomes an objective at the tactical level. For example, the executive team gets together for an ideation session with the objective ‘How to grow the business by 5X over the next 5 years?’ The outcome is a set of 6 idea themes, and 4 of them become follow-up ideation objectives.

  • Objective: How to grow the business by 5X in 5Years (strategic)?
    • Sub-objective 1: Adapt Industry 4.0?
      • Launch an Artificial Intelligence enabled service.
      • Offer augmented reality-based training.
    • Sub-objective 2: Expand the business into the Asia Pacific region.
      • Set up a partnership with a university in Singapore.
      • Acquire and turnaround a struggling small business in India.
    • Sub-objective 3: Scout & acquire training company on ISO9001.
    • Sub-objective 4: How will Amazon/Google impact our business.
    • Sub-objective 5/6: Not worth pursuing.

Every objective statement should have a unique topic-owner. The facilitator and the topic owner should be empowered to modify the problem statement within a narrow boundary.

Given that we are in the middle of the 4th industrial revolution, every company today should run ideation sessions with these types of objectives.

  • What are the opportunities or threats from industry 4.0 technologies?
  • What company values will drive our socio-economic development?
  • What ideas or industry 4.0 technologies can help us create value for the society; or perhaps help in progress towards UN’s SDGs?
  • What new skills do we need to thrive through this transformation?
  • What new business models may bring us additional value or stability?

Companies such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google, are on a roll to change the world. Their moves can suddenly disrupt your business, and ideation around those is important, just like you plan your house for storms, well in advance.

As we emerge out of the Coronavirus pandemic, some plausible ideation objectives could be …

  • How will consumer behavior change in the next 3 to 5 years?
  • What is the impact of unemployment surge to long-term demand for your products and services?
  • Which markets will disappear for you and which ones will expand rapidly?

Ideation objectives have a strong linkage with the innovation profile.

Agile Followers define ideation objectives based on VOC or RFP.
Smart Forecasters defined their objectives based on anticipated needs.
Visionary Trendsetters pick up a social or professional white space and often take a moon shot.

Identification of funding sources can be a part of the ideation exercise. Care should be taken not to use that as an excuse to pre-screen some good ideas.

I normally prefer to keep funding conversation as a follow-on topic.


The most important member in an ideation session is the facilitator. A good facilitator has some knowledge of the subject matter without bias in favor of any outcome, is a good communicator, is assertive in managing the group dynamics, is respectful of group diversity, can scribe inputs and engage with individuals at the same time, and has a sense of humor. Most importantly a competent facilitator understands multiple ideation techniques and tricks to continuously trigger fresh ideas.

Innovation coaches often make good ideation facilitators, unlike innovation management consultants. A consultant solves the problem, whereas a coach helps build your competency to solve the problem.  An ideation session facilitated by a coach provides the team with techniques to generate and refine ideas, which are useful after the session is over.


Sometimes, you may feel that you can generate ideas faster when you work alone. However, if you want creativity, resist that temptation. Do it as a group, preferably a diverse group. Diversity of skills and roles is a key design element. There is no ‘right size’ for the group, but in my experience 5-15 people is the sweet spot. There is no perfect composition of the group. I typically start with a core group of product/service developers and business development personnel who will have to later execute. I always suggest bringing in an IT person (it is the digital age after all) and a student/intern (who can have wild thoughts). Sometimes, I add a finance person to put some reality into the solutions. Diversity in thinking is required, and often comes with diverse demographics and past experiences.

It is also important to keep a few elements out of the session. I try to keep idea-killers, naysayers, and heavyweight executives out of the session, whose presence may intimidate participants. If a particular senior staff member insists on participating, then it is an indicator to exclude them (!). A smart facilitator may compensate for such undesirable engagement, but I do not count on it.

Ideation Techniques

There are several ideation techniques, and research on the topic is producing new methods and tricks all the time. Bryan Mattimore has compiled over 20 of these in his book[1], which I would say is a must-read for all ideation facilitators. My preferred ones are ‘I Wish’, ‘Visual Triggers’, and ‘Brain Walking’.

Based on the objective and participants, the facilitator should select a primary and couple of supplementary ideation techniques for the session, and plan on training the participants on the techniques. The choice of technique depends upon group size, facilitator understanding of the technique and the objective as well.


It is best to conduct an ideation session in a new setting, preferably a stimulating ambiance, with articles that can provide visual triggers, such as unconventional furniture, lighting, toys. Keep an ample amount of wall space to display growing content. And of course, an unlimited supply of water, coffee, and fresh fruits or preferred refreshments. It is important to be relaxed and not distracted by smartphones. I have seen some superb ideas hit the happy hour table once the formal sessions are closed out. There is no reason to exclude that additional input.

Again, there is no single answer to how long should this be scheduled. I typically plan for 2-4 hours for a fairly well-defined objective, depending upon the group size. Sometimes, a full-day is warranted, anything beyond that is likely to produce diminishing results and calls for a hierarchical session set.

Going Virtual

With current social distance restrictions, some of the ideation techniques have become even more powerful with online or virtual engagements. Tools such as SessionLab, Stormboard, IdeaFlip, Sprintbase, InVision, Mural, Miro, and others have found useful applications. If you do not have any of these traditional Excel over Zoom with whiteboard also works well. Over the last year, we have also successfully worked through multiple sessions in lieu of full day offsite to avoid ‘zoom fatigue’ and use the time in between to gather meaningful data.

In Summary,

Ideation is more than brainstorming. Multiple factors need to be considered in upfront planning to extract the best out of participating brains. The leadership should define the objective and pick the facilitator and let the facilitator pick the participants, platform, and techniques.

If you like this blog post, you will like my book – “Inspiring Next Innovation Value Chain” available on Amazon.

If you wish to engage with me in a conversation, on this topic, please register for an online session on Feb 25, 2021 at 9AM ET co-hosted by Nerac.

[1] Idea Stormers – How to Lead and Inspire Creative Breakthroughs; Bryan W. Mattimore; Book, 2012.