How to Break Into Innovation Consulting (2022)

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Do, think, create, strategize. If you work in innovation, you literally do it all.

OK, more specifically, you come up with products, services, processes, and strategies that help companies move into the future. And that could mean anything from creating a new beverage for a soft drink company to enhancing a bank's digital services to developing a pioneering hotel concept.

Sound intriguing? We sat down with two innovators at the top of their field and learned more about how to break in.

Annabel Acton

Inventor,?What If! Innovation

Brief Description of Job: I come up with new products, services, and business models to fuel new waves of growth for my clients [which include Virgin, PepsiCo, and Google].

Years of Professional Experience: 8

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Why did you choose this field?

I love everything about ideas—hatching them, developing them, and executing them. My foray into this field came after an enjoyable exploration through the communications world. I started in advertising, but realized quite quickly it wasn't for me when they made me choose between being strategic or creative. It seemed like a false choice, as I had heart and skills for both.

So I moved into marketing consulting for five years and loved it. I learned a lot about how business works, how to develop ideas, and what matters to both consumers and boardrooms. But my favorite part of the job was always ideating, in any shape or form!

Soon enough, I discovered that innovation consulting was a real job and made the leap. I love the learning, discovery, and collaboration innovation demands. And most of all, I love the people it attracts—innovators are people who believe the world can and should be a better place. It’s a very inspiring environment to work in.

What was your first job, and how did you land it?

My very first job out of college was in advertising. I called the CEO directly (after some serious Googling) and told him I was a big fan of his agency and was looking for work. We chatted for a while and following our call, he emailed his Managing Director and asked him to meet me. The Managing Director thought it was a mandate and hired me soon after. We all had a good laugh once I revealed that I was, in fact, a virtual stranger.

Whether a result of this experience or not, I’ll always make time for someone who wants to chat about my line of work, and I believe most people will. It’s worth a shot, and after all—the worst thing that can happen is that they say “no.”

What has been the most surprising thing about working your field?

I work on projects spanning all industries, from baby care to insurance to e-commerce to alcoholic beverages. When some projects come in, they capture your imagination from the get-go, but to my surprise, all of them are truly fascinating. Even the ones you expect to be dull end up being momentous and brilliant challenges to crack when you dig a little deeper.

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The other surprising thing is how much innovation can unite a team. The unpredictable nature of the innovation process, the riskiness that comes with sharing creative ideas, and the natural highs and lows that happen when you bring an idea to fruition create powerful ties between people and teams. Everyone has to roll up their sleeves and get a little dirty. Ultimately, creativity is a human endeavor and it’s a powerful reminder that even the most senior business people are still people.

What advice would you have for someone breaking into your field?

Innovation requires a different set of skills. It’s equal parts creative and strategic. It demands collaboration and, importantly, the ability to be comfortable sailing without direction. This ambiguity makes a lot of people nervous, but it’s fundamental to success in this field.

My biggest piece of advice to budding innovators is to make creativity a habit. It’s easy to teach someone how to do a job, but it’s much harder to teach someone how to think differently. Question everything, take a slightly different view of events, and challenge assumptions. Wherever you are, try to do things a little differently. Sadly, this type of thinking is the stuff that gets beaten out of us in many jobs.

You can develop this skill by adding a creative slant to everything you do: Ask questions, consider a different viewpoint, and look to new places for answers. Creative thinking is a highly prized and increasingly valuable skill to have. We welcome people with all types of professional experience, so long as they can think a little left of center.

Sara Holoubek

CEO & Founder,Luminary Labs

Years of Professional Experience: 15

Brief Description of Job: I am responsible for the overall success of our organization, an innovation and strategy consulting firm that helps organizations transform and become more resilient. I also spend a significant amount of my time on thought leadership.

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Why did you choose this field?

Innovation was less of a career choice, and more of a result of my career path; I consistently chose positions at companies on the bleeding edge of technology during moments of massive industry transformation. For example, I entered the digital space in the late 1990s when we were all literally making it up. Every project was an incredible exercise in invention.

In 2003 I joined iCrossing as Chief Strategy Officer. This was before Google was public, and as laughable as it is now, my peers thought that I was making a terrible career choice for taking a bet on search. I think we all know how that “search thing” played out.

These early experiences fostered a sense of invention and possibility that directly translate to business outcome.

What has been the most surprising thing about working your field?

Ideas are very easy to come by—operationalizing ideas is hard. And yet, that is where true innovation is born. The ability to adopt, operationalize, and iterate continuously with the end goal of increasing relevancy to respond to changing economic, technological, and cultural conditions is not an overnight exercise.

We take great pride in successes with the most unlikely organizations, the incumbents who are able to radically reframe their role and create real value. It’s one think to work for an innovative company—it’s entirely different thing to help a traditional company innovate.

What advice would you have for someone breaking into your field?

While many would suggest that startups are good training for innovation, I would argue that the best place to start is a large corporation in an industry in the midst of transformation. The larger and messier, the better.

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Here’s why: Friction equals opportunity for innovation, and large, incumbent organizations are a great place to learn how to navigate complex systems, understand how markets were made in the past, and identify the conditions for success in a particular environment.

So in short, earn your stripes in the field before advising others.

What is different about the hiring process in your field than in other fields?

Helping companies operationalize innovation requires a very specific set of skills and experience that are not specific to a degree or a particular career path. And so our hiring process differs in that it is structured to identify key attributes such as super-flexibility and a level of comfort with ambiguity.

And while we like smart people, we like smart people who know how to operationalize ideas even better. All too often, companies divide roles into “thinkers” and “doers.” We like “thinker-doers.”

The traditional interview process makes it relatively easy to know if someone is a thinker. It is harder to know if someone is a doer. For this reason, we frequently ask for concrete examples that lead to true value creation. And our bar for value creation is relatively high.

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Photo courtesy of Freddy Snijder.

FAQs

What is an innovation consultant? ›

Innovation consultants work with their clients to identify new opportunities and markets, which are essential for mapping out future growth. Additionally, innovation consultants can provide insight into new business model opportunities for the organizations they work with.

How do I become an innovation strategist? ›

Step 1- Meet the exam eligibility requirements:
  1. Hold a CInP Certificate plus a minimum of two years of professional experience.
  2. A minimum of two years of professional experience with a Master's degree or higher.
  3. A minimum of four years of professional experience with a Bachelor's degree.

Is innovation a good career? ›

Because innovation is arguably THE most important skill you can have, especially if you need to cross-market your skills or get a promotion. Every industry requires creativity, so if you want to be a hot commodity, in demand, and happily employed, you need to be innovative!

How much does an innovation consultant make UK? ›

The average innovation consultant salary in the United Kingdom is £50,000 per year or £25.64 per hour. Entry level positions start at £40,000 per year while most experienced workers make up to £70,000 per year.

How do I get into creative consulting? ›

Creative Consultant Requirements:

A bachelor's degree or postgraduate qualification in design, marketing, communications, art, creative writing, or a related discipline may be required. A portfolio of creative work.

What does an innovation strategist do? ›

Coordinate projects through task management, organization and disciplined follow up. Employ strong interpersonal skills to support and coordinate strategic relationships with financial institutions, community groups, vendors and other critical partners. Conduct or support original qualitative and quantitative research.

What are the 4 competencies of an innovator? ›

What are the skills that matter most for innovation? We've identified four skills that foster an innovation environment: Curiosity, creativity, risk-taking, and collaboration.

How do I become an innovation specialist? ›

Education: Most innovation specialists have a bachelor's degree in a field such as engineering, computer science, business or another discipline that provides a strong foundation in mathematics and science.

What are the 5 discovery skills of innovators? ›

Our research on roughly five hundred innovators compared to about five thousand executives led us to identify five discovery skills that distinguish innovators from typical executives. These skills are associating, questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting.

How do you put innovation on a resume? ›

On Your Resume:
  1. Spearheaded [a new program or initiative]
  2. Predicted [a trend]
  3. Developed [a new model]
  4. Identified [different outlets ]
  5. Recognized [an opportunity or channel]
  6. Created [a new product]
  7. Fostered [a new relationship]

What is innovation competency? ›

Key Behaviors of the Innovation Competency

Develops useful ideas that are new, better, or unique. Introduces new ways of looking at problems. Can take a creative idea and put into practice. Embraces diverse perspectives to promote or nurture innovation. Fosters interdisciplinary/transdisciplinary work.

How much do creative consultants charge? ›

Creative Consultant Salary
Annual SalaryHourly Wage
Top Earners$125,000$60
75th Percentile$93,500$45
Average$63,777$31
25th Percentile$30,500$15

How do I become a design consultant? ›

Design Consultant Requirements:
  1. Bachelor's degree in graphic design, interior design, fashion design, or related fields.
  2. A license may be required for an interior design consultant.
  3. A portfolio of completed designs.
  4. Strong working knowledge of CAD software.
  5. Good understanding of colors, themes, styles, and layouts.

What is a creative director consultant? ›

They work with the creative team to create, plan and deliver a strategic vision for clients. You'll be involved in planning advertising, supervising the entire creative process and guiding the team that works under you. The creative team includes art directors, copywriters and designers.

What are the three types of innovation? ›

Often, innovating involves approaching an existing idea or product from a new perspective with the goal of improving it. Although experts hardly agree on a definitive set of innovation types, there are generally three categories: product, process, and business model innovation.

What does an innovation analyst do? ›

An innovation analyst is somebody who does tech discovery, tech intelligence and scouting, market analysis, competitor analysis, or investment analysis. But this does not necessarily mean that they do this full-time. In fact, most people in tech and business probably do innovation analysis somewhat “on the side”.

What does an innovation manager do? ›

Innovation managers are tasked with creating the strategy and culture required for employees to experiment with the right resources at the right level to support that experimentation. Innovation managers are skilled in project management, strategic thinking and leadership.

What are the top 3 qualities of being an innovator? ›

See how your company rates by considering these top five shared traits of successful innovative companies.
  • They employ creative marketing. ...
  • They're adaptive. ...
  • They're customer-focused. ...
  • They channel drive and ambition. ...
  • They don't fear experimentation.

How do I learn to be innovative? ›

8 Things You Can Do to Be More Innovative
  1. Start with the Individual. When I hear 'our market is males 25-35' I can't see how that leads to innovation. ...
  2. Anchor to Problems, Not Solutions. ...
  3. Become a Better Storyteller. ...
  4. Circulate Ideas. ...
  5. Test Early, Test Often. ...
  6. Learn First, Scale Second. ...
  7. Kill Zombie Ideas. ...
  8. Get Out There a Lot.
27 Jan 2022

What is the 4 Ps of innovation? ›

Take a business leader approach and start with the four “Ps” of innovation—paradigm, process, position and product.

What type of innovation is Tesla? ›

Tesla produces unquestionably innovative products, including a range of electric cars that defy consumer expectations, like the Model S, “the safest and quickest car on the road”. Tesla is also committed to world-changing technology, like its line of fast-charging sustainable batteries.

What does an innovation Associate do? ›

Identifies and interprets trends and patterns in datasets to locate influences, particularly around social innovation and impact investing. Provides recommendations and strategic/tactical plans based on business data and market knowledge.

Is an innovator a job? ›

An innovator is someone who creates new ideas, products or strategies. Innovators can work in many industries, including fashion, technology, marketing and finance. When searching for a new job, innovators may be interested in exploring roles that encourage creativity or problem solving.

What are some real life examples of open innovation? ›

Local Motors - Co-Creation in a community. Local Motors activates its open community through its Co-Create platform. The designed vehicles are then manufactured through, for example, 3D printing. The key part in Local Motors' product development is its completely open innovation platform.

Who is the most innovative person in history? ›

The 12 greatest innovators of all time
  1. Thomas Edison. ...
  2. Steve Jobs. ...
  3. Nikola Tesla. ...
  4. Bill Gates. ...
  5. Benjamin Franklin. ...
  6. Leonardo Da Vinci. ...
  7. Alexander Graham Bell. ...
  8. Sandford Fleming.
11 Dec 2018

How do you become a disruptive innovator? ›

Disruptive innovation requires access to ignored or overlooked markets and technology that can transform a product into a more accessible and affordable one. To be disruptive, the network of partners—suppliers, contractors, and distributors—must also benefit from the new, disruptive business model.

Do you have what it takes to be an innovator? ›

1. Being innovative means doing things differently or doing things that have never been done before. An innovator is someone who has embraced this idea and creates environments in which employees are given the tools and resources to challenge the status quo, push boundaries and achieve growth. 2.

How do creative thinkers think? ›

Creative thinking is a skill which lets you consider things from a fresh perspective and different angles. It's an inventive thought process which results in surprising conclusions and new ways of doing things. Creative thinking can be aided by brainstorming or lateral thinking to generate ideas.

What are creativity and innovation skills? ›

Creativity and innovation skills help you come up with new ideas and approaches—both at work and outside work. They help you think about things differently than in the past. And they help you change things for the better. People who are creative and innovative have curious minds.

What makes a good innovation manager? ›

The best Innovation Managers are aware that the most important part of any project is people, so they make sure the team is well prepared and equipped. They understand the importance of communicating what's coming down the pipeline ahead of time. They're great facilitators and connectors.

What do innovative leaders have in common? ›

Innovative leaders are proactive and lead with confidence and authority. They turn tough circumstances into prime opportunities to demonstrate their decisive capabilities and take responsibility for difficult decision making.

What is the top skill of innovators and leaders? ›

Innovation leadership needs to demonstrate innovative thinking capabilities, to connect all the dots, even the ones that are not that obvious. Also, innovation leaders need to support innovative thinking across the organization by providing different ideation challenges for the employees.

What does an innovation manager do? ›

Innovation managers are tasked with creating the strategy and culture required for employees to experiment with the right resources at the right level to support that experimentation. Innovation managers are skilled in project management, strategic thinking and leadership.

How do you innovate at work? ›

How to be innovative at work in 7 steps
  1. Be open to change. ...
  2. Seek out positivity. ...
  3. Study other innovative thinkers. ...
  4. Attend a workshop. ...
  5. Broaden your professional network. ...
  6. Bring your skills to the office. ...
  7. Have confidence in your ideas.
29 Mar 2021

What are the 4 competencies of an innovator? ›

What are the skills that matter most for innovation? We've identified four skills that foster an innovation environment: Curiosity, creativity, risk-taking, and collaboration.

Is innovation manager a good career? ›

If you enjoy working with other people and encouraging innovative thinking, then working as an innovation manager may be ideal for you. These professionals can work in diverse industries, providing you with the opportunity to enhance your career development and elevate your status in the field.

How do you structure an innovation team? ›

Here's How to Build an Innovation Team for your Organization
  1. Step 1: Define Your Innovation Strategy. ...
  2. Step 2: Recruitment. ...
  3. Step 3: Setting the Mission. ...
  4. Step 4: Encourage Education. ...
  5. Step 5: Establish Key Performance Indicators.
2 Sept 2016

What are the 5 discovery skills of innovators? ›

Our research on roughly five hundred innovators compared to about five thousand executives led us to identify five discovery skills that distinguish innovators from typical executives. These skills are associating, questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting.

What makes a good innovation manager? ›

The best Innovation Managers are aware that the most important part of any project is people, so they make sure the team is well prepared and equipped. They understand the importance of communicating what's coming down the pipeline ahead of time. They're great facilitators and connectors.

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