You are not Elon Musk! You are not a hero here to save the company – and you are not working in a company full of idiots. The tone and approach you take within the company will make your attempts at transformation easier or harder, declare Tendayi Viki in his last book. Interview.

Hi Tendayi, so why did you write this book… now?

Tenday Viki: For many years, we have been fighting the battle of convincing leaders that innovation should be an important part of how they do business. I believe that this argument is now coming to an end. Most leaders are now fully convinced that innovation is the best way for their companies to create new growth. Now the question is slowly shifting towards how we actually get things done. How do we make innovation a repeatable process within the company? This is why I wrote Pirates In The Navy. The book addresses questions such as:

  • How do we get our company ready for innovation?
  • How do we change the culture and processes within our company?
  • How do we collaborate with enablers such as finance, HR, legal and brand?
  • In other words, we get the theory and we get that innovation is important – but how do we actually get it done within our companies?

An extract from your book that best represents yourself?

TV: I believe in the authenticity of innovators. So the extract  that best represents my thinking is below:Being humble is the hardest thing for a pirate to do. Humility sometimes seems to be the exact opposite of their DNA. In their own minds they are Elon Musk. I have often been shocked by the condescending language they use to describe their colleagues. Their contempt for leaders ‘that don’t get it’ is palpable.  You can feel their frustration and righteous anger every time you speak to them.But I believe that this righteous self-confidence is problematic. In fact, I can almost predict which innovators are going to flame out of their roles quickly by how much humility they lack. There are already difficult organizational barriers to overcome and their arrogant tone makes things worse. In fact, I have seen some innovators create barriers where none existed just by how they act.So let’s dispense with any myths you may have about yourself. You are not Elon Musk! You are not a hero here to save the company – and you are not working in a company full of idiots. The tone and approach you take within the company will make your attempts at transformation easier or harder. Innovators have to embrace the reality that nobody owes them their faith or attention. At the beginning of an innovation movement, we just don’t have the credibility to insist that our approach is the correct one. What we are seeking is for the company to give us space and permission to try new things and demonstrate our competence as an innovator.And it really doesn’t matter if you have been a successful founder of a startup before. Corporate innovation is a totally different kettle of fish. There are many more political hurdles to overcome inside large companies before a new product can be taken to scale. This is why building good relationships matters.Acting like you are Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, before you have earned the right to behave this way will only earn you enemies. What you don’t want early on is people in the company that are emotionally invested in seeing you fail. You want to create the exact opposite of that.So start with a little humility. If you were Elon Musk you would be running SpaceX. Somehow you are working in a large company, getting a monthly salary. Enough of the egotistical nonsense. You have to work to build strong relationships within the company to succeed, especially with middle managers.

The trends that are just emerging and that you believe in the most?

TV: I am African descent. I was born and raised in Zimbabwe. The emerging trend that I believe in the most is the emergence of Africa as an economic powerhouse. We are already seeing the increase of the middle classes. But I believe even more strongly that African entrepreneurs will be able to leverage technology and design business models that serve people at the low-end of the market – creating value for those people and markedly improving their lives.  

If you had to give one piece of advice to a reader of this article, what would it be?

TV: Avoid innovation theatre at all costs! Innovation theatre are the activities that people do that look like innovation, but ultimately create no value for the company (e.g. hackathons, sticky notes and idea jams). Make sure that every activity you engage in around innovation is connected to some ultimate value creation for the company you work for.

In a nutshell, what are the next topics that you will be passionate about?

TV: The topic I am most interested in is complacency or more specifically uncomplacency. I am interested in the psychology of how people become uncomplacent. What is it that keeps certain people constantly looking to improve themselves, even when they become wildly successful. I think unlocking this secret can help leaders avoid the disruption that happens to them when they become complacent within their  company’s success.

Thanks Tendayi

Many thanks Bertrand

The book: Pirates In The Navy: How Innovators Lead Transformation, Tendayi Viki, 2020