The 4 most useless people to have in your innovation project

Let’s assume your innovation project has a clear purpose. Example: “You want to find new sources of revenue based on the existing assets you have as a company.” To develop a new product or services you decide to launch an innovation accelerator. The people you invite to your brainstorms & workshops are of course carefully selected.

But still we see that far too often, several “useless” people will take part. “Useless” as in “not there for the indented purpose of your innovation program”. That doesn’t mean those people are bad or evil individuals. They just take part for different reasons than you intended.

Do you recognise any of the following 4 profiles:

The inventor

Sitting on his idea 

This person has his or her own pet project. They have an idea, often already for years, but for good reasons this idea will never be launched. There is something wrong with their concept (e.g. no real need to solve, not feasible, illegal,…)

But this person will never change their mind and will ‘pitch’ their concept to every new innovation program or initiative in the company with the hope that maybe this time they will get the support needed. It will not happen…

They will be assigned to a project team, but will end up working on their own idea. This might lead to a lot of frustration and discussions with fellow team mates who actually want to work on the real challenge instead of endless debates on a side project that will never be launched.

The spy

internal politics

These people have no real intention to launch a new innovation project. They are present during the strategy workshops & brainstorms just to listen & observe. Sometimes they work already on a similar project and want to ‘steal’ other ideas from another department. Or they are sent by another division somewhere in the company that wants to be informed on what’s happening.

They remain relatively invisible. They will not block the process or start discussions. They just tag along but there will be no real drive to move things forward. Often these people are hard to spot until late in the process when real commitments are asked of the participants. (e.g. “Go out and talk to the first 10 potential customers to gather real market feedback”).

The tourist

Just there for the experience

This type of participant enjoys the thrills of creative sessions. They enjoy the relaxed environment of startup hubs & coworking spaces where we typically organise workshops. They are motivated to participate during the exercises. Actually, they have a positive impact on the atmosphere of a brainstorm session.

But they are ‘useless’ in that sense that they will never take ownership to launch a new innovation project. They will be good support during the workshops, but as soon as the accelerator or hackathon is over, they will go back to their day-to-day job.

The (party)-crasher

Hiding from 'boring' regular job

This person hates his or her current job in the company. Every excuse to spend a day somewhere else will be taken. The fact that this session happens to be an innovation workshop, basically doesn’t matter. This person is probably the easiest to spot. They lack any meaningful motivation or skill set to add value to the innovation teams. With basic interviews or scoping sessions early in the process, you’ll be able to filter these people out of the program.

The 4 examples above are the most common mismatches, but there are plenty of other drivers why people sometimes join your innovation/intrapreneurship program. Not every reason needs to have a negative impact on the outcome of your innovation program.

What other motivations do you see why people join innovation programs?

  • People who want to be promoted or change jobs. They use the cross-divisional workshop sessions as an internal networking opportunity. Strategic workshops often create visibility to c-level, directors or VPs so this makes sense.
  • Some people are placed in innovation teams, just for the learning experience. It becomes part of their training or development program.
  • The saboteur? If you’re unlucky you might end up in the middle of a corporate politics war game. This might be difficult to manage as an external consultant since you might not be aware of all the history & sensitivities at play here. Be careful :)
    – …

Assuring the quality of the team composition is a challenge we face in all innovation programs. Feel free to contact me if you need a sounding board.


I’m Nick De Mey, founder Board of Innovation and foresight analyst at Venturesight – foresight-backed venture design. Let’s talk!

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