It’s easy to understand why many managers are not interested at all in heading up an innovation team. Saying no is the sane choice. The truth is Innovation Team Leadership is usually a thankless job. It’s often a job on top of another job. In other words, a lot of extra work spent on innovation initiatives means it’s a killer to keep up with the business-as-usual-operational job. So, that’s usually enough to kill innovation leadership motivation.
But wait, there’s more!
Not only is it a ton of work, it’s high risk. Many, even most, innovation efforts fail. Failure doesn’t look good come job and salary review time. People spout a lot of happy talk about learning from failure but the truth is, in USA culture at least, that failure usually means you failed, and that is never good. It can cost you your job, and the job market — it’s not pretty.
But wait, there’s still more!
Not only can you work your can off, then lose your job, or suffer humiliation, you also have a very good chance to managing a recalcitrant team of misfits. The misfits might have talent (and they might not) but if they haven’t been a team before, there will be conflict. You can take that to the bank and deposit it. If the innovation team leader isn’t a darn good leader, the team will fail on inter-personal feuds before they even get to the corporate challenge at hand. Innovation is always difficult. If the team leader gets through the conflicts to the productivity stage, failure is still ever-present simply because you’re trying to do something that is just plain hard to do. Innovation cycles always seem to reach a very dark moment, where things look bleak, the ideas aren’t working, the funding is near-gone, and management support is impatient and drying up.
So, if you’re considering becoming an Innovation Team Leader, for the love of God, get your head examined. You really have to be certifiably insane to take on this kind of challenge. In the immortal words of Nancy Reagan, just say “No.” I’ve only scratched the surface here on the negatives, I could write another 1000 words just listing them (stuff like process, tools, training, etc.).
Say yes if you have an inner drive to create something new.
Say yes if you are afraid but really want to try anyway.
Say yes if you want your company to exist five years from now.
Say yes if you really want to learn — you will.
Say yes if you have more guts than brains, but brains would also help.
Say yes if you ever want to walk down an aisle and see a product you (and your team) created from scratch, on the shelf (or on the web, etc.).
Say yes because you’ve got nothing to lose.
Say yes if you ever hope to look up and find the CEO waiting to talk to you — and she’s smiling.
Most of all, say Yes, because, while you may be crazy, as Innovation Team Leader you won’t be bored. Say Yes — and have the time of your life.