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Bravery Overcomes Internal Barriers

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By: Michael Graber, Managing Partner, Southern Growth Studio

It never fails; the same stories and struggles pop up midway through an innovation session.

Picture this typical scenario: three engineers from different countries of origin, a global and a domestic product manager, a sales person, someone from the nebulously defined Brand department, (nebulous because the discipline means something different at every organization we’ve encountered), and a someone who serves as a diplomat or relationship manager to an important segment of the business.

After following a customer-based innovation process based on the unmet needs of the target audience and the jobs that need to be done, concepts that are wholly new to the market arise. Powerful sets of new thinking that directly add value come to life.

Then, these sets of concepts are tested with costumers, refined by their feedback, made better for the people for whom they are intended. Truly, it is an amazing process wherein product and service concepts become more and more useful and valuable for their intended audience. The customers leave wanting these new creations as soon as they are market ready. Everyone is inspired.

Then things stall out.

You can almost set your watch by it, as it is a predictable pattern. The team—following this value generating process—have cracked the code and created a range of breakthrough product, service, and experience concepts that solve real, unaddressed customer problems.

The outcome could be worth, in some cases, hundreds of millions of dollars or more, and has the potency to take a company from a third or fourth position in their category to a category leader with a long runway of sustainable competitive advantage.


Inevitably, as we started preparing to share the findings with senior executives, doubts creep in. Then confessions start. The long litany of why these concepts will never work, will take too long to get to market and reach scale, or what internal barriers will impede speed to market. Everything gets examined from how the business functions today. Everyone feels a dark cloud of panic envelop the room.

They forget that we have been hired, and that they have been commissioned, to find actionable ways—new ways—to get traction quickly. We have been given liberty and by the senior executives to innovate faster, better, with a greater launch rate than their former failed efforts.

They executives expect to learn deeply from the insight garnered by working directly with customers. They also expect to see the concepts, hear how customers improved them, and, most critically, there is an implicit commission to entertain new paths for market testing concepts, find alternatives to have prototypes created and products manufactured, and exploring new pricing paradigms and business model innovations.

The team forgets that this means we do not have to follow the old models of market testing, RND, manufacturing, piloting, and launching new things. They panic, thinking they have to use the old machine to produce the new inventions. Most often, the old machine is already stressed to capacity.

To us senior leadership encouragement to explore new paths to market is the real litmus test of an organization’s innovation sincerity.

About the Author: Michael Graber is the managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, an insight, innovation, and strategy firm based in Memphis, TN, and the author of Going Electric. Visit

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