Another category or role needed in Technical Organizations was uncovered by a group at Kimberly Clarke Corporation and since defined and embellished further by Lanny Vincent. This role has to do with the nature and nurture of parenting innovations. What Lanny articulated is that innovators need to be more playful, and the need a protected environment in which to do so. It is important to allow innovations the development benefits of Play, and not cut them short by prematurely requiring certain levels of performance from them. This is where the agile or lean product development process gains its strength, i.e. by rapidly going through evolutions of playful product development versus the waterfalls of the stage gate process.
MOMs, or “Mentors of Mavericks” are often an ignored but necessary role frequently missing in established companies seeking to innovate. Without a competent and present MOM, not to be confused with the sponsor who is also necessary, innovations don’t receive the insulation from the “adult performance oriented world” of the “established revenue stream managers”. MOMs and Innovation Midwives enable holding, hugging, and talking that allows for set-based concurrent engineering so effectively used by Toyota’s knowledge based product development philosophy (see Michael Kennedy’s book “Product Development For The Lean Enterprise”). One of the major tasks in which Innovation Midwives or MOMs need to be diligent, is honoring the core. If managers of established revenue streams feel in any way a competitive threat for resources coming from within the organization they will consciously and often unconsciously work against innovation. This concept is also been described in detail in The Innovators Dilemma by Clayton Christensen.
MOMs are often senior technical people residing on the technical side of the dual ladder management structure. In this role they often have the credibility to mentor young scientists and engineers with new maverick ideas. They can counsel them, in a nonthreatening way, on the best way to build their ideas and shepherd them through the organization in a way that stays below the radar until the idea is truly ready to be presented to management. If an idea is discovered prematurely, the MOMs also have the organizational credibility to obtain needed resources to test out an unusual idea that they think has merit. This requires that senior technical ladder personnel also be generative in their behavior. This is not always the case as some of them develop large egos. Generative and supportive research fellows who also are good MOMs should be well compensated and supported within the organization.
A good CTO or technical director can also be a MOM. This is typically not the case however as these individuals are often viewed by young scientists is unapproachable. In smaller organizations however this may not be the case, or in startup organizations where the culture is truly collaborative and learning valued.