Bonus Question: How often do you write?
"I hate writing". Cough!
"Oh, I try to but I don't have much time". Cough Cough Cough!
"Every day". Ding! Ding! Ding! A Winner!
There you go. An instant social media expert evaluator. Sort of like a Cylon Detector, but hopefully more effective.
The beauty of this post is this final bonus question. It goes right to the heart of the whole expert thing. A real expert walks the walk as well as doing the talking.
This got me to thinking what might be my top questions when evaluating an innovation expert? And might it possible to come to a single bonus question which acts as innovation Cylon Detector?
What follows, then, is my attempt at some questions. For purposes of brevity (because you know I can write ad-nauseam), I've limited myself to 4 plus the Cylon detector.
1: Where would you spend my innovation budget?
There are several good answers. If they say "on capturing great ideas", don't come to any firm position yet. If they say "working on several great ideas", reserve judgement. But if they say "working on that one great idea that we'll help you find", throw them out.
What most innovation teams lack is any kind of predictability, and that's because they fail to consider things from a portfolio viewpoint. An innovation expert will have spent enough time trying new things to know that most will fail. Therefore, don't put all your eggs in one basket.
2: Well how would you define innovation then?
"Trying to create the next iPhone". Only an acceptable answer if the conversation was about doing disruptive innovation in the first place. Otherwise, this is a sign that you have someone in front of you who thinks that all innovations must radically change the market to have any point. It is also a sign of someone who has not learnt that most new things fail. iPhones and Googles and Facebooks are once-in-a-lifetime flukes. [And don't tell me that Steve Jobs keeps having these flukes: he runs an innovation portfolio. Of course Apple is successful at innovation].
"Doing stuff that you aren't already doing as part of business-as-usual". Excellent, top points answer. Why would you limit what you could consider except ruling out what is already working fine?
3: How many innovators does it take to change a light bulb?
The real point of this question is working out whether you're dealing with someone that wants to sell you designers, analysts ,ethnographers and technologists. If your innovation expert needs all these things, what they are selling you is an ongoing consulting contract.
A real innovation expert will tell not need all these things. They'll understand that real innovation comes from organisations that are actually innovative. In other words, they'll advise you on cultural and processes changes and how you can make your people do innovation better.
4: Where's your science?
"Innovation isn't a science! It's about creativity!". Big raspberry for the wrong answer. It's probably true enough that a single innovation is about creativity, but when you treat multiple innovations as a portfolio there's lots of science available. A real innovation expert will know how to forecast demand curves, calculate the launch trajectory based on consumer behaviour theory, have the basics of expected-values and expected-losses, and a whole lot more besides. They'll have read and understood the great texts such as Christensen and Rogers. And they will likely have done their own work extending the methodological approach to innovation in companies.
An innovation expert without the science is the same as a doctor without the medical training: a quack. A snake-oil salesman who knows the bright shiny bottle is much more important than the contents. You'd be better off hiring a witch-doctor who can do a rain-dance.
The Cylon Detector: How many other innovators do you know?
Expert innovators are a pretty close-knit bunch, and its probably true to say most know each other. As well as that, the real experts amongst them know that they have to talk to each other just to keep up. It's a young discipline, so there's lots of progress going on on so many fronts.
Now, if the answer to this question is none, or only the other innovators in their home firm, what you have is definitely not an expert innovator. You might have a pretty-good innovator, but he or she won't be an expert. It takes time to become one, just as it takes time to get to know everyone else doing work in the space.