Innovation Requires Authority, Not Power

During one of my gigs as a product manager, an executive in our company was overjoyed to have a US Defense Department client. He was eager to land a reference customer, but he fundamentally misunderstood how easy it would be to get a military organization to join the ranks of success stories. He wrongly assumed, in this very hierarchical organization, successful adoption of our collaboration tool was the simple process of (1) the general in charge ordering people to use it, followed by (2) people under his command dutifully using it. The military doesn't work that way, in large part because, when faced with a bad order that might kill them, military professionals learn how to wriggle out of these diktats. (Which is why there's a fine line between initiative and insubordination.)

Even if our executive's assumptions about how the military operated were correct, that formula might spell doom for the project. What happens when the general in charge moves on to another post? No assignment is forever, and the next officer in charge might have a far lower opinion of our product. The crisis might happen earlier, if the current general got impatient with the progress of the project. Fearful of these potential outcomes, this executive bet the entire project on maintaining good relations with the general and his immediate subordinates, including the irascible project lead, whose view of technology adoption was summarized in his comment during a meeting with us: "Users are stupid, so they don't know what they want."

Who's responsible for adoption?

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