Innovation is a complex task to undertake. Make innovation happen within an organization is a challenge that many managers don’t want to assume. In the next few lines we will try to give some light on one ingredient that many have not consider at the moment of implement a method or deploying an innovation strategy. The “innovation activist” is probably one role that we will see more and more often in medium to large organizations, if those companies and their CEO’s start planning long term and base the competitive advantage on innovation.
From the innovation and strategic point of view, we have seen that in order to innovate it is necessary to build a strategic view through an organizational vision that allow us to move forward towards the building of business models or business platforms that innovate in the markets, making this process a tangible one through the design of products, associated services and communication strategy.
To have success on the innovation process it is necessary to bring systems that facilitate continuous and systematical innovation, and there, Design thinking emerges as a response to that necessity.
Never the less, as it happens in strategic management models like, for example, the Balance Scorecard, to apply innovation models is a complex task. Many times the strategy does notn’t come down the pipe from the Management level because there are notn’t people to inform and implement the strategy, people who can play a change agent role.
In the book “The strategy activist” from Saulo Bonassi y André Coutinho, it is said that companies need someone to be in charge of the execution of corporate strategy. In 2005, Kaplan and Norton, wrote at the Harvard Business Review the concept of the Office of Strategy Management – OSM. Here, they sayid that to most companies, the strategy and the execution are two worlds completely disconnected, and that establishing a dedicated unit whose purpose is organize both can help to build a bridge much needed to the organization success.
Under these precepts, it is there is a question about the necessity of having a “department” of innovation that makes the connection between the strategic definitions of the organization and the execution levels. When we observe the companies that have had success in implementing innovation strategies, they have assigned “change players” throughout the whole organization. These “players” act as “Activists” or “Paladins” of such discipline (Innovation). People that are capable of articulate, design, communicate, activate, collaborate, and reflect about the business in terms of constant innovation in all aspects of the business.
These activists are then “key nodes” that facilitate the communication between managers and departments; they talk and build teams of professionals and technicians behind the innovation strategic goals. Again, the Design Thinking System (Team of people, Space for innovation and the process) emerges as an answer to that much needed connection, where people, never the less they have different backgrounds of knowledge and studies, are able to work together collaboratively using a multidisciplinary method.
The innovation activist is then someone who has a vision, but is also someone who is able to be aware of the detail of things, to be aware of opportunities, his role is not only strategic but of action and executive as well. It is a facilitator and his work is a lot about making much needed conversations happen so that innovation can flourish within the organization.
One relevant aspect to consider, especially in medium or large companies, is that there is not just one “paladin”, but a group of people, that need to play this role. Procter & Gamble understood it when back in 2007 started a program called “Design Thinking Initiative”, that made use of a 100 Design thinking facilitators, who made more thant 40 workshops within the company with the mission of install a design culture in the DNA of the company.
The facilitators played an activist role and came from different areas of the organization, organizing, structuring and generating Design Thinking moments not only to do product and services innovation, but also marketing strategy, logistics, retail experience and operational excellence.
The innovation activist will play a special role in the future of companies and organizations that want to compete in the globalized markets, a role that needs to be nurtured and empowered.
Diego Rodriguez is the CEO of Consulting Design (www.cdesign.cl) and Director of Innspark (www.innspark.com). Professor of Innovation at the Universidad de Talca MBA Program. Chile. Business model innovation consultant.
 Saulo Bonassi y André Coutinho, “El Activista de la Estrategia”, 2011
 Harvard Business Review, Octubre 2005