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  • Writer's pictureMalcolm De Leo

Negotiation: Innovation Speed Dating...The first step to a successful partnership.

Updated: Jun 28, 2023

For an innovation partnership to start, someone has to make the first move. Good ideas don't magically appear. It takes someone to have an idea that someone else decides is interesting, different and worth pursuing. For those who own the interface between two organizations, it takes a certain level of skill to make an innovation partnership launch.

In many cases the opportunity to partner doesn't happen in a one on one setting. While these ideas really apply to any situation, the concept of innovation speed dating is something that happens more frequently when you work in a larger organization where information is often spread in larger group settings where political waters run deep.

Here is a scenario that many of us find ourselves in when part of a work environment...

It's Tuesday and you look on your calendar and see a meeting called by someone in your team to meet with either another group you never interface with or an outside vendor/consultant/partner etc. As usual, you roll your eyes because inevitably you know this meeting is about the expectation to participate in a collaborative round robin where no idea is bad and the group is being cajoled into finding good ideas that are actionable and worth money. You hate these meetings because most of the time it is a rehash of ideas you once heard, someone thought of or even perhaps were good ideas that would never see the political light of day.

You avoid thinking about it all morning until just when you are starting to get some real work done, the calendar alarm goes off and the once productive morning collapses into a sea of "bullshit meeting time". You drag yourself to the conference, making sure to take an extra long stop for a cup of coffee, before meandering into the meeting. And as expected, there is a big table with two teams of people surrounding it smiling with that ever exuberant plastic corporate rah rah ready for action look. You think to yourself, I know exactly what is going to happen. The presentation, whether its a goal you've heard before, a technology you are being asked to evaluate, a process you need to build or whatever other collaborative output the meeting is expected to create, is about to begin. You think again...this will be over before it starts....there is nothing here but a mine field of corporate ideas doomed to die...why bother.

!!!!FULL STOP!!!!

This scenario, which you are probably smiling about as you read this, is bass ackwards at best. This post is about innovation partnerships. Many people I have worked just wanna be recognized and promoted for doing the big thing, coming up with the big idea of want rewards for a job well done, but all that starts with having an innovation mindset. If the definition of innovation is...CREATING SOMETHING BETTER BY THINKING OR ACTING DIFFERENTLY, then an innovative mindset is always approaching every task as an opportunity to drive improvement or thinking out of the box not only with your attitude but your approach to everything you do. And this means, even the most mundane things we do are a chance to face a fear, tackle something new, creating something better and YES collaborate differently with those you encounter each and every day.

You wanna be an innovator or an evangelist? Then you need to bring that attitude everywhere you go and it starts with being able to show others you are that beacon of innovation they should bet on. You see there is an old innovation adage my good friend used to remind me of...Companies don't innovate people do! Well, if you wanna take the first step and being a lightening rod of innovation then you need to become an innovation speed dater

What is an innovation speed dater?

Like any speed dating you have a few minutes to meet a bunch of potential "partners" and find a way to be memorable, connect as deeply as possible and make them want to pick you. Being an innovation speed dater is no different. Being an innovation speed dater is all about standing out in a crowded room so you get picked as the partner of choice to launch a new opportunity

The more concrete definition...

An innovation speed dater is a person who drives a deep connection with those sharing information, technology or ideas in a way that their positive attitude stands out as the only person worth dealing with so that the group can create something better by thinking and acting differently.

Below is a simple list of what innovation speed dating is and what it isn't...

Focusing on understanding vs. doubt:

This seems obvious but it isn't. You would be surprised when you walk into that meeting how many people (regardless of how they behave outwardly) are thinking that the opportunity in front of them is either stupid, a good idea that won't make to the finish line or simply they don't really even care. Most people sit in that room with their arms folded rather than with them open. They are saying I have heard everything before, this is just more of the same. A good innovation speed dater comes to the table with an eye towards believing everything is true and possible until otherwise proven. You need to be a believer. You need to focus to drive a level of understanding deeper than anyone else. Why? Because when you do this, you plant the seeds of the moment an innovation speed dater is looking for which I will get to soon.

Striving for connection vs. looking for standards:

Taking from the old negotiation handbook, where people make their argument by using a standard of legitimacy, this is what happens at ground zero of an innovation partnership. In this case, as most listen on they are trying to compare what they are hearing to something they already know so they can disqualify the opportunity. I am not sure why this happens. It could be out of fear of taking a risk (if they chose to actually believe), not wanting to trying something new, they are too busy or simply because they don't give a shit about anything outside of their personal lanes. Looking for standards is great when you are trying to convince somebody why they should do something, but when used here it is an innovation killer. The innovation speed dater is working to find ways to connect. Whether this means connecting with those seeking help or partnership or simply trying to build a bridge between what is front of them and what can bring an idea to life. A good innovation speed dater must try to find mutual interests. When people find they have mutual interests trust forms and the opportunity to create new things increases exponentially. Connection between two individuals is a sacred bridge that must be built to create a coalition of the willing.

Innovation empathy vs. needing proof to believe:

A person who needs proof to believe is someone who isn't really committed. Sure, it is critical to bring data in almost everything we do, but not when it comes to the moment an innovation partnership is starting. Innovation partnerships take everything that is the antithesis to what most corporations tell you. How many people work at a corporation that says we are all about innovation but behind closed door everyone complains and knows its just a platitude. Well, even in corporations where people are rewarded for following the process and failing appropriately, innovation seeds must be planted. And that starts with moving beyond proof to get going and finding a way to have innovation empathy. Innovation empathy is a state where you can be open to fully receiving why the person sharing with you believes what THEY are telling you is innovative. If you can get into their mindset and into their emotions about what excites them then you can begin to draw them closer because they will know you are seeing them and hearing them.

Trusting it works vs. about the companies interests

I always like to talk about the team within a team (which is a separate topic) when forming an innovation partnership. Because the team within a team concept comes after you get thing going, trusting it works is the first step. This is real simple. What you are being told is true. You trust the merits, values and experience in the presented subject matter judgement free. Stop and think about that. An outsider is telling you about something and why you should listen as well as why its a good idea and that it works, and you just need to dispel everything and trust that? Yes. In fact, it is imperative as a innovation speed dater. If you are trying to be a beacon of partnership then just believing and trusting what you hear without thinking will give you the chance in the short time you have to delve into the details later. Most people will be sitting there worrying about the companies' interests. They will be trying to protect how things are done, why they must preserve the status quo and make sure those in charge see them as good solider. This typical corporate mindset will undo their ability to be an innovation champion. Sure, they will do well getting pats on their head but they will never see a huge innovation from the seed to harvest. The companies interests are important as always (heck they pay you) but to crush the corporate inertia you have to take risks and believing your partner is the way you will get the chance to actually find out.

Stretching beyond their vision vs. Fitting today's agenda

Here is a real doozy to consider, a good innovation speed dater is actually doing everything they can to show they understand their partners material, connect with them by showing they are a believer, show true empathy for their struggle and just trusting what they hear, but what if I told to do it right you actually have to go beyond what you are hearing and start crafting that future state. Innovation speed dating is about standing out so they want to partner with you, but you must also burst their tactical agenda by sharing ideas beyond where they are today. This will really get their attention. One time I was doing all the things I am talking about here, but rather than just show them I get them, I actually took the innovation I was hearing and crafted a combined innovation that took what I needed and they had and described well enough for them to nod. Those presenting couldn't walk up to me fast enough after the meeting to learn more about what I was saying. At that moment...I had become the partner they wanted, craved and ultimately got. You can show someone you really understand by restating what you heard but also applying it beyond that point. It is a critical component and the final step to being an amzaing innovation speed dater.

Why should care and what do I do with this?

I believe that by honing our own innovation skills, which often requires getting really uncomfortable. we can evolve beyond the standards and elements of the corporate culture most people hate. In this case, if you wanna manage the transom between two companies trying to work together to create a market changing idea, you will have to find a way to build trust really fast. If you are cautious, too culturally loyal, looking for ways to kill it and just plain being an in the box asshole, then go back to your desk and do your job. Innovators are never satisfied and one way to bring a growth mindset to our work, we must build muscles in ways no one thought possible. And learning to be the innovator everyone wants to partner with by becoming a great innovation speed dater is a tool in your toolbox that will make you stand out in any crowd filled with people dying to be recognized.

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