How to Find Innovation Allies at Work

by Tim Metzner

This is the 2nd post in our blog series, “Innovating Like a Startup (When You’re Not In a Startup.)”

If you’re passionate about being a changemaker in your organization, your first step is to build a team around you. There is real power in numbers; having the right, experienced, influential people by your side is invaluable. Despite how you might feel, there’s a pretty good chance you’re not alone, so invest the time in learning about the efforts being made on this front. Assembling a dream team of like-minded individuals is no easy task. You might feel that if you knew where to search for these people, you would have already found them by now.

As much as I wish I could share with you the silver bullet to doing this, the truth is finding these folks internally can drastically differ depending on the culture. Drawing on insights from friends and my personal experience, here is my best advice.

In some companies, there are actual innovation roles, teams, or initiatives that are pretty public, or at least, easy to find, once you start asking around. A good place to start your search is on Linkedin. Search for people who work at your company and the keyword “innovation” (or something similar). Also try checking in with someone from HR to find out if there are any current departments, teams or leaders in a role like this

While those are good places to start, they may turn up dry. Second attempt: look for opportunities that could allow for serendipitous connections. For example, does your company host any meetups at your office around startups, lean startup, innovation, etc? If so, definitely hit those up!

As you’re connecting with folks, in addition to asking about their day job (what their current role is), also try to understand what it is they’re passionate about. What opportunities do they see that others don’t? I love asking questions like, “If you were CEO, what’s the first big swing you would take?” Your company may not have an innovation department, but with questions like these, you can begin identifying innovation leaders (or wannabe leaders) and discover new opportunities.

Here’s a fun example I just heard from an old friend of mine. Five years after putting his startup on hold and searching for new work, my friend took a job with IBM. He was initially put into a sales role, and from there, jumped around for awhile. He found success in a variety of roles, but he was never super excited about any of them. Oddly enough, while attending a community (non-company) event that attracts tons of entrepreneurs, he met someone else from IBM who was in the formative stages of building a team around a new initiative. In short, he was creating a startup within IBM. By the end of the event, my buddy was offered a spot on this new team, on a project he was excited about, all because he attended a startup event in the area.

The last thing I’ll share is that this can sometimes be “long ball.” Networking doesn’t always pay off right away. However, sharing your story, passions, and interests with others (and asking questions to learn the same), will increase your odds of being pulled into interesting work over time. Also, be sure to follow the rabbit down the hole a bit; with each new connection, ask if there’s anyone else working on similar initiatives they recommend you meet. Building up your team and resources is an investment that will serve you well your entire career.

Next Step:  Get Rid of Your Innovation Goals. Solve Problems Instead.

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