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Are you an innovator or a follower? This Texas expert explains how to know

Are you an innovator or a follower? There is no right or wrong answer. Just know which you are. Otherwise, you are getting in the way. Image via Unsplash

Everyone likes to consider themselves innovators, or at least believe that innovation is happening in their domain. But innovation management is a process that requires leaders to commit deeply and believe that the risk is worth the reward.

For many business leaders, regardless of the industry, it can be a struggle to embrace creativity and innovation and to commit the needed resources of time, funding, and staff to develop new methods of doing business. For many, it is a conflict to invest when there is not a clear, immediate, or guaranteed financial return on investment. When it comes to innovation, the biggest return on investment can be the learnings and the mindset shift, not just the financial gains.

Leaders need to ask themselves a couple of questions:

“Do I want to be an innovator or a follower?” There is no right answer as both leaders and followers are needed. But one thing to keep in mind is that innovation without failure is impossible.

Thus, the next question emerges: “Which do I value more, taking reasonable risks and learning or being a mainstream adopter?” And again, there is no right answer.

Seth Godin, author and former dot com executive, once said, “No organization ever created an innovation. People innovate, not companies.”

With that in mind, for those who genuinely want to be leaders of innovation, there are certain “must-haves” for any process. The most important “must-haves” are remembering that internal culture impacts success and support from the top down is absolutely integral.

Real innovation moves the organization forward strategically. 

Designate ownership and accountability to measure progress. These measurements will often look quite different from other success metrics, are often more opaque and are even not immediately financial. These non-financial metrics sometimes make team members feel uncomfortable, and that is okay. Ultimately everyone involved in this process needs to be willing to hear truth and be committed to creating a culture that drives creativity.

Innovation has a clear alignment with organizational business strategy. 

Leadership and designated team members need defined problems to solve that align with the stated business strategies. There is no point innovating a widget or process that does not move the organization forward.

Innovation requires a defined process and funding. 

Leadership should begin by carving out one full year of budget solely dedicated to innovation and trying new things. These dedicated resources include funding, full-time employees, and support from a consultant, such as EPIcenter, to challenge leaders and drive the process. There must be buy-in by the team members with leaders committed to ongoing sightlines of the process.

The right team members need to be at the table.

The right people need to be the ones to make decisions, evaluate innovations and de-risk both the technology and the business models to make things happen. The team should include individuals who are adaptive and tenured, new and nimble, and a mix of subject matter expertise and enthusiasm.

Innovation success requires the right mindset.

Both the leadership and innovation team must have a mantra of “how can we” rather than “we can’t” or “we’ve never done it that way before” or “it failed before.” There must be a will and desire to work, innovate, fail, resolve, and execute -- or at least learn.

Sometimes innovative solutions emerge by happenstance during the process without a known or stated problem. With proper training and a curious mindset anything is possible.

With these requirements in mind, let’s go back to the initial questions asked of business leaders, but in reverse order this time:

“What do you value more, taking reasonable risks and learning while meeting strategic goals or pure financial gain?”

“Are you okay with failure, adjustments and trying again?”

“Are you an innovator or a follower?”

Again, there is no right or wrong answer. Just know which you are. Otherwise, you are getting in the way.

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Liz Thompson serves as the chief of advisory services at EPIcenter, a Texas-based nonprofit organization with a think tank, incubator, and accelerator focused on energy innovation and thought for the global future.

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Building Houston

 
 

Here's your one-stop shop for innovation events in Houston this month. Photo via Getty Images

Houstonians are transitioning into a new summer month, and the city's business community is mixing in networking and conference events with family vacations and time off. Here's a rundown of what all to throw on your calendar for July when it comes to innovation-related events.

This article will be updated as more business and tech events are announced.

July 10 — Have a Nice Day Market at the Ion

Stop by for a one-of-a-kind vendor market - #HaveANiceDayHTX - taking place at the Ion, Houston's newest urban district and collaborative space that is designed to provide the city a place where entrepreneurial, corporate, and academic communities can come together. Free to attend and free parking onsite.

Have a Nice Day is a creative collective with a goal of celebrating BIPOC makers, creators, and causes.

The event is Sunday, July 10, 4 to 8 pm, at The Ion. Click here to register.

July 12 — One Houston Together Webinar Series

In the first installment of the Partnership's One Houston Together webinar series, we will discuss supplier diversity an often underutilized resource for business. What is it and why is it important? How can supplier diversity have long-term impact on your business, help strengthen your supply chain, and make a positive community impact?

The event is Tuesday, July 12, noon to 1 pm, online. Click here to register.

July 14 — Investor Speaker Series: Both Sides of the Coin

In the next installment of Greentown Labs' Investor Speaker Series, sit down with two Greentown founders and their investors as they talk about their experiences working together before, during, and after an equity investment was made in the company. Attendees will get a behind-the-scenes look at one of the most important relationships in a startup’s journey and what best practices both founders and investors can follow to keep things moving smoothly.

The event is Thursday, July 14, 1 to 2:30 pm, online. Click here to register.

July 15 — SBA Funding Fair

Mark Winchester, the Deputy District Director for the Houston District Office of the U.S. Small Business Administration, will give a short intro of the programs the mentors will discuss. There will be three government guaranteed loan mentors and two to three mentors co-mentoring with remote SBIR experts.

The event is Friday, July 15, 10:30 am to 1 pm, at The Cannon - West Houston. Click here to register.

July 16 — Bots and Bytes: Family STEAM Day

Join the Ion for a hands-on learning experience to learn about tech and robotics and gain insight into the professional skills and concepts needed to excel in a robotics or tech career. This event will be tailored for 9-14-year-olds for a fun STEM experience.

The event is Saturday, July 16, 10 am to 1 pm, at The Ion. Click here to register.

July 19 — How to Start a Startup

You have an idea...now what? Before you start looking for funding, it's important to make sure that your idea is both viable and valuable -- if it doesn't have a sound model and a market willing to pay for it, investors won't be interested anyway.

The event is Tuesday, July 19, 5:30 to 7:30 pm, at The Ion. Click here to register.

July 20 — Perfecting Your Pitch

Join the Ion for their series with DeckLaunch and Fresh Tech Solutionz as they discuss the importance and value of your pitch deck when reaching your target audience.

The event is Wednesday, July 20, 5:30 to 6:30 pm, at The Ion. Click here to register.

July 21 — Transition On Tap: Investor Readiness with Vinson & Elkins LLP

Attorneys from Greentown Labs’ Gigawatt Partner Vinson & Elkins LLP, a leading fund- and company-side advisor for clean energy financing, will present an overview of legal considerations in cleantech investing, geared especially toward early-stage companies and investors. The presentation will cover the types of investors and deals in the cleantech space and also provide background on negotiating valuation, term sheets, and preparing for diligence.

The event is Thursday, July 21, 5 to 7 pm, at Greentown Houston. Click here to register.

July 28 — The Cannon Community 2nd Annual Town Hall Event

Partner of The Cannon, Baker Tilly, has played an integral part in the success of Cannon member companies. Join the Cannon community for The Cannon's 5-year anniversary celebration!

The event is Thursday, July 28, 4 to 7 pm, at The Cannon - West Houston. Click here to register.

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