As a scientist I have learned to embrace some of the stereotypical characterizations of scientists and laugh along with others, but the one I’ve worked hardest to overcome is in the communication area. So much of our job involves “influencing” others, especially to reach innovation crescendo, and yet I’ve noticed that we scientists are almost all universally weak in that area. This post, the final in a series of R&D leadership, offers some suggestions to R&D Leaders who may also be struggling in their role as an “influencer”.
The “influence” of R&D leadership is crucial if a company wishes to move from innovation collapse to innovation crescendo. For instance in earlier posts, we noted that the R&D Leader has to champion, in collaboration with other company leaders, an innovation culture within the company which nurtures the best R&D talent, while also engaging senior executives in developing a balanced R&D innovation strategy aligned with the corporate strategy and getting buy-in on the strategy from other leaders in the company.
It’s not all about the data
Although many aspects of R&D leadership largely depend on the leader’s ability to “influence” others, many R&D leaders who come from a technical background tend to be data-driven and are weaker in areas where influencing other leaders is key. As a young scientist I believed the data always spoke for itself. How wrong I was. It took a while, but I learned the critical part of “influencing” was not the data but rather understanding my audience, understanding what information they were looking for, and understanding their goals. If you’re a young scientist reading this, remember that sometimes the data is the least persuasive part of an argument. Know your audience and differentiate between a presentation to a technical leader and a non-technical leader. Sometimes your audience doesn’t understand the significance of the data. Sometimes they are just not as interested in the data as you and want a much shorter summary. Sometimes they would prefer to talk than see charts and tables of numbers. Sometimes they don’t “speak” your (scientific) language. It’s our job to learn to bridge these gaps which means broadening our base of experience, reading outside our area of expertise etc.
Be comfortable with less data
Kaveh Naficy in his leadership blog, “Leadership Crescendo”1, describes the transition from R&D scientist to R&D leader and influencer. It is possible to learn to “influence” by speaking up in a more extraverted style even though you may not have all the facts or data that you would normally prefer to have to make a decision. Success in influencing others to value an R&D/innovation-centric culture, to feel comfortable with the “fuzziness” of having emerging new technology projects in the R&D portfolio, and to support an R&D innovation strategy will all help you accelerate to Innovation Crescendo.
© Dennis Nelson 2012