The Naked Emperor: Part 2 – The Do-It-Yourself Vice President

Categories: Innovation Insights

Click for Background to Naked Emperor stories

One day, not so long ago, a Vice President of R&D decided to revamp the process of generating ideas and concepts at the front-end of his innovation process. Innovation had recently been expanded to include new areas such as packaging, supply chain, and consumer insight. In addition the R&D organization had recently become a global organization, with the ideas from headquarters supposedly being adopted for a global audience.

The VP was concerned. He had worked in several positions in the firm and knew the history of the organization. Previous divisions had tried to improve the front-end process, with some immediate successes but within 12 months most of these initiatives – and their sponsors – faded away with negligible results. He did not want his tenure to end in the same way.

It would have been nice to make incremental improvements to his process. The department had an effective Stage-Gate process to manage and evaluate projects. In an ideal world all they would do would be to make minor adjustments to add extra functionality, maybe a person or two, to build out a front-end process. Unfortunately the business had not been generating a decent volume of quality concepts. The stock market punished their share price, blaming too many ‘me-too’ products and criticizing the management team for being sluggish ‘fast followers’. Whilst it was not R&D’s fault that the pipeline was bereft of breakthrough concepts (line management seemed to always kill the ‘good’ things as they got closer to real commitment), R&D did have a role to play in fixing the problem.

The Vice President was fortunate to hear his competitors speak at innovation conferences and was seen to be writing copious notes during the presentations of his closest rivals. He ear-wigged on conversations over lunch, picked the brains of consultants, and reviewed all the leading software from the innovation management vendors.

Back at the office he put together a project team to define a new process and begin the engagement process with world class vendors to help bring them up to speed immediately (time was of the essence – the year was rapidly slipping away). His team researched all the previous internal attempts to boost productivity and originality at the front-end, and came back with nothing. All previous internal systems had been desperate failures.

At this point in our tale, your storyteller will point out a few home truths that may or may not be evident:

  • ok, you know they are going to implement an in-house system. Someone from IT will pop up and say they can build the ultimate system. Someone from procurement will say that external vendors are too expensive.
  • we also know that no one will say “why the hell are we building a computer system for idea management – we make consumer products, not systems!”
  • we know that no one will say “we have done this before and failed miserably – why will this be any different”
  • we know that the project will get started and the delivery date will be pushed out constantly (at first it will be 1 June launch… then 30 June…. Then start of Sept because people are on holiday, then end of year… then change of management and we start the whole damn process again)
  • and sadly we also suspect that even if they could build a great computer system, there is no way on earth that this company, number three in their industry, will ever match the leading edge work done in their competitors – or in even better companies in other industries. How can they know world class if they do not reach outside of their walls and speak to experts?

At this point the storyteller will stop, simply to say “Oi! Naked guy! Yes, you, the one who thinks he’s wearing a suit and tie. You are naked – and you are scaring people”.


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