My experience with innovation mentoring during 2013 turned into something quite different from what I was aiming for. The goal was initially innovative new products, but the result was leadership development.
During this month I ended two different global mentoring engagements (one co-worker in Russia and one co-worker in China). In each case we had a wrap-up meeting to discuss our progress against our original goals.
The Russian use case is the best example of setting goals in one area and achieving them in another.
My mentee (Alexey) and I set a goal of innovation in his area of expertise (compression algorithms). In one sense our intent could roughly be described as an effort to stimulate the creation of new high-tech products.
In order to achieve this goal, we discussed a set of new behaviors that could stimulate technology interchange with people outside of Alexey's general circle. By proactively increasing his network, marketing his technology, and following up on opportunities, we had hoped that he could end up with a new product proposal.
This new product proposal may indeed some day happen.
In the meantime, at our closing meeting we discovered that the mentoring helped Alexey cross the bridge from an expert in his field to a leader in his community.
- Alexey held an innovation training seminar to share innovation approaches (e.g. innovation by adjacency).
- Alexey also held an educational seminar on his area of expertise.
- These seminars were held during the announcement of EMC's global idea contest in April 2013.
- These trainings, held early in 2013, can be correlated to three Russian award winners (out of 28 global winners) at this year's EMC Innovation Conference.
- In each case, the three winners displayed a pattern of the innovation by adjacency approach.
- Alexey formed relationships with research leaders outside of his region (e.g. Brazil).
- Alexey reached out to collaborate with the local sales team to understand customer requirements better.
- Alexey attended a one-day workshop in Israel to better understand the Telco environment.
- He became more involved with local leadership in his facility and more active in the monthly technology councils.
- He decided to be more disciplined in the area of intellectual property generation.
In other words, Alexey became more publicly visible outside of his comfort zone, and began to tackle tasks that were outside of his traditional scope.
This increase in scope and visibility is a path that leaders trod.
It will be interesting to trace his innovative output going forward. The link between innovation and leadership is well documented.
The mentoring session with my Chinese co-worker (Diego) took a similar route. At the end of a 10 month mentoring engagement Diego had increased his visibility and scope.
As these two mentoring engagements ended, some new ones are beginning (Ireland) that I hope will generate similar forms of insight.