Innovate better. Get more out of your innovators, equip them to develop and convey their work to better influence stakeholders.

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What business managers want: influential innovators

By our chief nurturer, Kehinde Komolafe

I’m an innovators’ nurturer, I help companies improve the effectiveness of their innovators. For the decade I’ve been doing this job, the most common request I get from the managers who hire me is “make my innovators be influential”.

These managers run departments and teams of technologists (scientists, engineers, developers, etc.) whose job is to innovate for their companies. They usually come to me when these innovators have become ineffective, unable to demonstrate the business value of their work. The managers’ assumption is that their innovators have poor communication skills. But in my experience, this is rarely the issue. The real issue is that innovators are unable to see and understand the perspectives of the stakeholders that their ideas must go through. This is a major barrier to their success as innovators due to the way companies are set up. Companies are structured in silos: each one will have its own objectives, resources, offices and even subculture. Within these silos you will have disparate groups of stakeholders with divergent productivity criteria that innovators have to meet to develop and take their ideas to market. The bigger the company, the larger the number of stakeholders. Innovators are not trained to deal with this. They are trained to develop specialized technical mastery.

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Why the communication gap between technical and business teams

By our chief nurturer, Kehinde Komolafe

I recently spent a few months in San Francisco Bay Area attending conferences, meet-ups, workshops etc. to get a feel for the place. Every time I told people what I did for a living they were surprised and intrigued. Didn’t know such a role existed they said. I am an innovators’ nurturer. They’d ask what does the job entail exactly? I would say: “I help companies improve the effectiveness of their innovators by training them to develop and convey ideas”. Or I said: “I train innovators to see and navigate through the diverse groups of stakeholders required to get their ideas to the market.” Sometimes, I would also say: “you know how technical and business folks speak completely different languages, I train to speak the same language.” The latter explanation resonated mostly with folks. This for me is an oversimplification of what I do but I understand that most people think there is a ‘communication’ gap between technologists and the business. But it is just a manifestation of the underlying issue.

After they’ve heard the explanation of what I do, they would then proceed to tell me of their own experience with this problem. One start-up founder told me that his biggest challenge is getting his technologists to really see their customers and the business. One manager of a multinational biotechnology company said this is a major source of pain for them to get business executives and technologists to understand each other. Over and over I would hear that I was in the right place, Silicon Valley, as there is a massive need for the work I do. I have heard the same wherever in the world I tell people what I do. Yet this is a problem that is rarely addressed, where it is, it is mostly poorly done.

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