Chapter 18

Declare Intent

By Being Clear about Where and How You will Innovate, You Massively Increase Your Odds of Success

To lead innovation, you need to see how others are innovating and spot how you could shift the status quo. Then assess how much sophistication will be needed to drive that shift. Put simply: “Where and how should we innovate? How much innovation do we need?”

To do this well, draft an “Innovation Intent.” This is a concise articulation of your initiative’s goal. Its wording can be imprecise, but not random. The underlying idea is to remove the recklessness of a fuzzy declaration like, “Give me breakthrough ideas that make me go ‘wow!’” Instead, help your collaborators know where to begin and what will constitute victory.

A classic Innovation Intent came from President John F. Kennedy in his address to Congress on May 25th 1961: “First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”1 In one pithy sentence, JFK declared an ambition and had an unambiguous goal embedded right in it (to get the astronaut back successfully before 1970 dawned). President Kennedy did not know how this might be done. Instead he laid out a challenge, set a time frame to get it done, then he worked to install and trust the talent to deliver it. This is how breakthroughs happen—not through serendipity or unbridled creativity, but by creating a vivid goal and challenging ...

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