In his book “the innovator’s dilemma” Clay Christensen talked about how an organization’s immune response system stamps out new breakthrough ideas. To thwart this immune response, Dick Cheverton,‎ Lanny Vincent,‎ and Bill Wilson found that maverick innovators’ new ideas and projects could best find their way to commercialization through the use of a semi-formal management layer of mentors. They call these mentors MOMs.

The premise for needing a mom in order to carry out breakthrough innovation is that innovation takes a champion and a sponsor, but that is not sufficient, it also needs a mom layer. The mom has three purposes: to apply credible judgment, cultivate connections between people and networking of interpersonal relationships, assessing realities and organization climate and attempting to modify it.

MOM Advocacy and Tasks

The MOM Advocacy and Tasks figure shows the role of the MOM in three areas. The maverick innovator brings the idea to the table. Typically they believe in and of shown the value of their idea to the customers and the overall market. The organizational Sponsor looks at the Mavericks idea and determines what the idea is worth to the firm. This is typically the business leader who is looking for a return on the innovation investment. The third role that we’re talking about here is that of the MOM who tends to focus on the relationship between the Maverick, Sponsor, and organization. For roles of the MOM, they are to help justify the innovation in terms that the firm can understand, find relevance to the core business by being particularly aware of multi-business corporations’ business unit strategies and desires. The MOM also finds ways to reduce the risk to the firm’s investment in the Mavericks idea and resolve conflicts that come up between organizations or individuals. It should be noted that when it comes to effectiveness, individual MOMs really don’t exist, but should be better thought of as a network of MOMs. It is because they are distributed, an informal network around the various groups of an organization, that they can uncover ways in which Mavericks’ ideas might be relevant and justified. Because MOMs are so highly networked amongst themselves they are also able to brainstorm best ways to resolve conflicts and manage risks.

MOMs are found in almost every large company as mid-level to senior executives who constantly engage in balancing innovation needs with the need for control. Metaphors used to describe a MOM included “filter, ambassador, advocate, catalysts, interpreter, third-party, and in-between guy”. Is worthy to note that “sponsor” was never used to describe a MOM. MOMs are typically philosophy-based vs. rule based in their decision making styles.

MOMs see themselves as part of networks that provide experience, council, judgment, access to resources (including recruiting and repositioning talent), temporary cover protection, and even energy for creating and implementing innovation. These MOM networks are made up of experienced innovators that are politically savvy, well-connected, and incredible advocates. Their networks were largely informal, which made them highly flexible, adaptable and concealable.

MOMs make connections between ideas and people, and inform working relationships between those connections. The primary focus of the Maverick innovator is to demonstrate the value of the innovation to the end-user. In other words to “get it right”. But the primary focus of the MOM network is to “get it done”. MOM networks require relationships to succeed.

MOMs are part of a more complex off-the-radar system, one that runs in tandem with the corporation’s hard systems such as stage gate flows and criteria. Essentially soft system are founded on enabling and empowering people through extra hierarchical relationships; it is a complex ecology of informal communication links, climate controls, and the use of credibility for concealment.

MOMs and their networks collect portfolios of innovation projects spread risk and provide multiple at-bats in contrast of their peers on the operating side of the business. MOM networks maintain innovation warehouses were innovation projects are temporary concealment position, based on the timing judgments and discretion of moms. Innovation warehousing is a relatively common practice of MOM networks which enables them to reduce the risk associated with innovations that may be too early, or for which the market is not quite ready.