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Innovation -What does an innovation consultant do? Part 1.

Previously I discussed aligning innovation efforts to the organisation’s strategy.   In this article I want to discuss what innovation consultants do.  It has been widely reported that many of the jobs of tomorrow don’t even exist today and that the successful tertiary education institutions of the future will be those that graduate students who have the imagination to figure things out. 

The purpose of this article is not career advice, but I want to start with this “statistic” to show that in a constantly changing environment and with the speed of technology leading the race, the business environment will require new skills at the same rate of change.  I don’t have the exact facts, but I am pretty sure that the job (or career if you want) of an innovation consultant, did not exist twenty years ago, and also not mobile phones, Facebook, electric vehicles or drones.  
The innovation consultant:
Arnold H Glasgow said: “A consultant is someone who saves his client almost enough to pay his fee.”….  I have made that joke many times, but let me take a step back and put the term “consultant” into perspective first by looking at why a business would require the services of a consultant.
The three main reasons why a business would make use of a consultant are:  
1. The volume of work required to be completed within a particular timeframe is beyond the capability of the staff, so a business will hire a consultant to help alleviate the overload.
2. When a certain expertise is required that is not available within an organization, an outside expert is sought to either work with others in the business on a project or work independently offsite to contribute a certain aspect of a project.
3. All organizations have problems and many of them cannot see the forest for the trees in trying to solve those problems, or day-to-day business keeps them from spending the time and resources needed to finding answers. They look to outside consultants who have a fresh, unbiased perspective and specific knowledge and experience, to use their expertise to find solutions to the business’ issues. Clearly innovation consultants will be utilized in the two latter scenarios.
So what exactly does an innovation consultant do?
Innovation consultants usually work in two ways.  Some are agencies, others are trainers. An agency takes the organisation’s problem or challenge and applies the discipline of innovation to find a solution. A trainer teaches the organisation the processes and techniques of innovation so that you can find your own solutions.  Many innovation consultants are also trainers and more. They teach best practices in innovation, but they don’t just tell an organisation how to innovate, they show the organisation how. They collaborate with the organisation to create new solutions.
So, the skill that innovation consultants bring to the party (as per the reasons why a business would make use of a consultant) are that they are experts at designing and implementing effective innovation methods and projects, and facilitating collaborative processes that enable people to solve complex problems and create breakthrough solutions.  I like the way Jeffrey Phillips describes the job of an innovation consultant: “we help organisations rediscover their inner entrepreneur”. He goes further to highlight that innovation consultants’ responsibilities are to: “remind people of the future and to create a conduit for ideas”.
I believe that innovation is a discipline that can be learned and excelled in, and my view is that the job of an innovation consultant is to do just that, teach and apply the discipline of innovation.


Next Time
In this article I laid the platform for the raison d’etre for innovation consultants.  In the next article I will elaborate on some of the specific services that innovation consultants can provide to an organisation and how the organisation can gain value from this profession. I conclude with a quote from Walter Lippmann on consultants: “The best servants of the people, like the best valets, must whisper unpleasant truths in the master’s ear. It is the court fool, not the foolish courtier, whom the king can least afford to lose”.

Phillips, J. 2009.  What innovation consultants do. Online:



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