An innovative idea without a champion behind it is doomed. I wrote in my last post about risk aversion tendencies of middle management within most organizations. There is an exception to that rule. If an individual in the organization comes up with an idea himself, he might be willing to take some chances to see it through. Call it personal pride, or tenacity… No one wants to see an idea that they think is tremendous die due to bureaucracy or company politics. I know the guy at Delta Faucet that came up with the concept of the Touch Faucet. He recognized that consumers need to be able to turn water on and off at the kitchen sink when their hands are really dirty (think chicken slime). Some preliminary research showed that when people were doing certain types of food preparation, they would use their elbows or a paper towel to turn the water on/off, to prevent contamination of the faucet handle. Obviously, this led to some very awkward movement. So he developed a means of simply tapping the faucet with your wrist or forearm, and have the water turn on, allowing you to wash your hands without worry of spreading bacteria. Even upon first hearing this, it sounds like a fantastic idea, doesn’t it?
But like most companies, Delta Faucet has a lengthy process to get new product concepts into the marketplace. Along the way there are many points where various experts weigh in with their individual opinions. Many concerns were raised… “You can’t mix electricity with a faucet!”, and “This will be way to complex of an install for anyone to be interested in”, and finally (my favorite), “That will be at a price-point beyond what consumers will pay”. As he tells the story, this project was “killed” three different times during the course of its development. However, he was not willing to let a good idea die. Every time the project was killed, he would personally resurrect it and through dogged determination pushed onward. Fast forward a couple of years and the product is on the market, and exceeding all sales expectations by several hundred percent. Champions don’t let projects die.
Unfortunately, the case above is far too rare. Most companies shoot down ideas like the Dilbert cartoon above. My friend took a risk on this project. Had it gone to market and not been successful, he could have lost his job. Fortunately in this case, we’ll never know. But the real question is this. Does your company support and enable product champions? It’s never a job title, it’s a passion. Are people encouraged to take risks? What is the upside and the downside for them as individuals? No one is suggesting that you bring every wacky idea to market, but do you have an infrastructure where top ideas can have an owner? I’ve even seen situations where concepts of open innovation have been applied, and the true champion is not even an employee – he’s an outside contractor managing a project to fruition. However you get there, know this. No breakthrough product will ever see the market without a champion. Do you have yours?