Shark Tanks, HIPPOs and the Middle Manager Mindset
Typical corporate innovation cultures circa 2000
Consider Joe, an intelligent employee with a promising idea that could ‘change the world’. He pitches it to his manager Jane, and convinces her to support an additional presentation, this time one step up the food chain. And so it usually goes before inevitably, the bright idea is killed. This process could take up a substantial chunk of time in which Joe and Jane have spent their valiant efforts and valuable company resources that end up going — you guessed it — nowhere.
Why does this happen? Typically, it’s because while Joe may have stumbled onto a great use case, and is willing to discuss in depth how he will implement it, he lacks the appropriate corporate context to sufficiently understand how it might become a genuine business opportunity. That requires having a strong grip on the financials and a deep familiarity with the nuances of the contextual environment.
The corporate environment itself, with all its ‘lovable’ idiosyncrasies, will ultimately dictate how the proposed idea is executed by *this* company. Typically, it requires pulling people together from different silos to support the idea, and neither Joe nor Jane have an adequate network. As they move up the food chain, they will eventually encounter Highly-Paid-Persons, who are anointed with the ‘correct’ context and whose job it is to make the sound decisions — decisions that could very well be to kill the promising idea.
Suppose that Jane has a group of very talented employees at her disposal, all of whom have great ideas. Being a supportive manager Jane gamely takes their ideas up the chain, but is more often than not unable to sway executives. Now Jane is developing a bit of a reputation for pushing ropes! An impatient and stressed executive might not react kindly to wastes of time such as this. The next time an intelligent employee like Joe has an idea, Jane is more hesitant to roll uphill.
We’re sure you’re familiar with how this story ends. It illustrates precisely the way corporate cultures have devolved into stifling innovation. Word will go around that this company has a case of a HIPPO culture (Highly Paid Person’s Opinion is the only thing that matters), or that middle management has a reputation for suffocating opportunity. Worse still, it’s all posted by disgruntled employees on Glassdoor.
Typical corporate innovation cultures circa 2017
Having paid close attention to the full gambit of corporate consultants and living in the pressure-cooker that is ‘digital disruption’, most companies have taken on various strategies to surface their best ideas quickly: crowdsourcing, working with innovative startups, voting platforms, elaborate selection criteria, etc. Now Joe doesn’t have to wait to convince Jane! He posts his idea, canvasses support and is in the Shark Tank about to pitch his idea. Great news, right? Wrong. Shark Tanks are full of HIPPOs.
So, you may be wondering what exactly happens to these ‘Shark Tank ideas’ even if they are accepted? Joe and his team work really hard, produce cool demos and then… usually find themselves redirected to more executives, who are focused on their ‘real’ jobs, and look suspiciously at these ‘less-than-real’ innovation projects. And given the current options, understandably so. Our innovators are left with the same lack of context, and we find the HIPPO problem all over again.
Don’t blame the Sharks, the HIPPOs, Middle Management, nor Joe. This dynamic is an inevitability if innovation teams are not supported with the appropriate context to put an idea beyond a use case and into a validated business opportunity.
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Originally posted at InnoStreams