Innovator’s Camouflage:

A Navigation Survival Guide

So you are an innovator and feel like you need to be camouflaged? Nature has some great lessons.

Being an innovator in a big organization can mean you are hunted.

Most hierarchical organizations like order. Not disruption. They operate like a “pack.” Often, their pace of change is determined by what has worked in the past. In other words, new ideas can make an innovator who is seeking change, quite vulnerable as they disrupt the pack order. They must be part of the tribe. But they must also be true to themselves. This can make them an outsider. So the question becomes, how do you survive being a change agent in a large organization that resists change?

Having interviewed and watched innovators wrestle this problem, each has their own survival strategy. What is common among many innovators is their use of “corporate camouflage”. They are adept at disguising themselves, their ideas and the disruption their innovations will bring. The ultimate goal is to survive the disruptive change process and to see their innovation come to life.

For an innovator, working to push their idea in big organization, understanding “corporate camouflage” techniques is vital to thriving in bureaucratic jungles. Luckily, nature gives us the three valuable lessons in camouflage and survival: 1) being hard to spot; 2) mimicking another forms; and 3) dazzle and confuse. Understanding the difference between these types of camouflage and knowing when and how to use them can be the difference success or failure in turning your ideas into action.

1. Be Invisible…until the Time is Right

The first type of camouflage is called crypsis, being hard to see. From chameleons to octopus the aim is simple, blend in and hope no one notices. Stay still and stay out of sight. For innovators this can be easily done. “Flying under the radar,” talking the corporate dialect, dressings to be unnoticed and fading into the boardroom. The plan is only come out of hiding when the coast is clear and the opportunity strikes.

But it is a waiting game. Your ideas will have their day but probably not today. So until then, hold on and be invisible. Not a bold strategy for change but it does enable you to survive until a more receptive time.

So when is the right time? The reasons can be many. Inside the company, new leadership hired to make change, seeks allies and looks for kindred spirts in the organization. Beyond the company a competitor’s leap-frog advance or shift in the market that can spell doom to current business model. For the “hidden innovator” new leadership or crisis are opportunities. They are openings to propose bold solutions beyond business as usual. The key is spotting these changes in the habitat, emerging from cover and ceasing them.

2. Shape Shifting

The second form of camouflage innovators use is mimesis meaning to appear to be something very different than who you are. Nature gives us the snake that mimics the markings of its venomous brethren or the insect has evolved to look like a stick. Innovators who thrive like this often have developed entirely range of personas for different situations. Their camouflage is beyond skin deep, it is a constant personality shift.

The aim is not to be deceptive. Being authentic is a given. But to be flexible and responsive to the needs of your audience. Building a sense of connection depends on shifting to your audience’s needs, understanding their perspective and hesitations. After all, innovation is tough. It requires change that can disrupt not just what people produce and sell, but how they create value and the meaning they attach to it. A “shaping shifting” innovators understands and empathizes with all of the actors in the equation. They realize one story of change no matter how compelling will not tip everyone into being supporters.

Fluid and flexible these innovators move seamlessly from one form to another. They adjust their bearing, energy and mindset to those around them. Not as an echo of their surroundings but deliberately tuning to channel that works best. Their goal is to recruit allies, build coalition and networks. They know that spreading ideas is just the first step. Fusing groups together, behind a common vision tips an organization into action. For these “shape shifting” innovators, the root of their success in blending flexibility with a “We” not “I” mindset of shared success.

3. Dazzle and Dare

The final species of innovator, in the enclosure, is dazzle. Like the zebra, they make no attempt to blend in. Their camouflage is to be out in the open. No hiding here. Dazzle camouflage works by confusion and an attempt to confound listeners with their brilliance. The aim is simple, like zebra; knock the pursuing lion off their prey with chaos of black and white stripes. After all in nature, near misses are still misses. That’s all that counts.

Brazen and unabashed these types of innovators seek to dazzle at every turn to stand out with words, wardrobe and energy. Fun, entertaining and provocative “dazzle” innovators exude the energy of momentum and change. And there is no doubt that charisma and energy are vital to any change. Often this type of innovator is brought in by senior leadership to ruffle the feathers of the company. Make a splash.

Bolstered by active leadership these types of innovators can ignite a stale business. After all, energy causes change. But sapped of senior support this type of innovator can be a flash in the pan. Dazzle can turn dull. The challenge for any “dazzle” innovator is to know when the lion has learned to read the stripes and the camouflage has worn thin. To survive longer requires adopting a more collaborative approach that focuses much more on building a tribe than being than apart from the herd on the corporate savannah. Being isolated and alone is a sure recipe for being eaten.

For any innovator trying to navigate in big, slow organization having some sort of corporate camouflage is a must. Your survival depends on it. Ideas that can disrupt are threatening too many. To save yourself from being hunted and becoming corporate prey, you must find the right camouflage that works in your habitat. The key is knowing when to shift between different types of camouflage. Ultimately, that depends on knowing yourself and your company, and where you are in your innovation journey.

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About the Author

Simon Trevarthen is Founder and Chief Inspiration Officer of Elevate Your Greatness (EYG). EYG helps individuals, teams and organizations unpack the secrets of success by becoming even better versions of themselves through dynamic keynotes, seminars and workshops on innovation, inspiration and presentation excellence.

To learn more about Elevate Your Greatness see www.elevateyourgreatness.com

©Elevate Your Greatness

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