Innovation of Business

and the
Business of Innovation™
Innovating for Survival

Controlling Your Business from the Inside Out

Change happens, everywhere and all of the time.  The only way to manage change is with change.  This story demonstrates a model for maintaining control of your business in times of rapid change.  We will look at a small team in a huge organization… a team that would seem powerless to achieve any self determination… yet one that found their power.

In 1997, the EPA passed new regulations on particulates, tiny bits of matter caused by emission of volatile chemicals into the atmosphere.  Operations of major industries and government would be stopped if particulate pollution exceeded EPA limits.

A team of scientists in Air Force Research Lab was part of the solution… atmospheric chemists with one of the best testing and evaluation labs in the country.  They wanted to leverage the EPA ruling for long-term job security.  Being the best was no guarantee.  If the Air Force didn’t recognize and appreciate its scientific resource, these people could be of work.  So the team decided to invest in their future...  to take control through proactive change.  We can all learn from their success, whether in big industry, small companies, or government institutions.


Many such teams know only what they do, not who they are.  They have no distinct identity as a team.  From the outside, they appear as a replaceable cog, not an essential unit in the larger bureaucracy.

That inhibits influence over stakeholders.  You see, our markets own our image.  If we don’t know and present who we are, we simply don’t exist as a player.  Maybe not even as a cog.  Control of image delivers significant control over our future.  A strong, positive, vibrant marketplace identity grows out of conscious team decisions, presented consistently, and reinforced over time by stakeholder satisfaction.  Identities are complex, integrating a range of aspects.

Think about meeting a person.  Learning names is a start, yet a relationship requires knowing much more.  We ask questions like, “What do you do?”  Answers determine interest in learning more.  To attract desired relationship partners, we need to confidently present ourselves from a range of perspectives.  Think about the rich answers this team developed.

Name ? Late in the analysis, when they knew a lot about themselves, this team named themselves Air Team, a dual reference to the Air Force and their focus on air-pollution research.

Functional Definition ? The answer to “What do you do?”  
Air Team fields solutions to air-pollution problems
through relevant science and research.  
We perform basic and applied research to determine
the impact on air quality of paints, solvents, exhausts,
and other aspects of Department of Defense (DoD) operations.

Stakeholder Focus ? Air Team serves the Air Force, DoD, and industry, in that order of importance.  Industry stakeholders included both possible polluters and manufacturers of potential solutions.
Desired Perceptions ? A summary statement of desired perceptions becomes a focus for developing image through both communications and behaviors.
Air Team turns Air Force investment in air pollution research
into practical knowledge essential to solutions
that support both military readiness and industrial competitiveness.

Needs Met ? Air Force and industrial stakeholders needed strategies to address full compliance with EPA regulations, so Air Team developed and offered diagnostics and compliance planning.  Manufacturers need revenues, stakeholders, and new products, so Air Team helped create a focus on key issues and helped develop effective solutions while containing costs and finding better, more concurrent designs.

Value Delivered ? No one ever buys a product or funds science.  They always invest in value as the sum of benefits which are results of using a product to meet needs.

Potential polluters gain:  Focus on their real missions, minimized impact on operations, greater control over decisions that impact performance, overall better decisions (in this arena), and overall better solutions.

Solution manufacturers gain: Focus on stakeholders and products rather than on air quality assessments, contained costs through early criteria for product design, predictability in product development, and confidence that their decisions will prove correct.

Advantage ? Air Team had to build credibility from scratch.  Further, the Team faced limited awareness of the problem and lack of a vision of a solution.  Air Team developed abilities to get their messages into stakeholders’ minds and grew a sense of urgency about air pollution, willingness to modify the current focus on pollution prevention, and recognition of value-vs-cost in changing procedures.  By overcoming these barriers, Air Team opened strategic opportunities for funding and collaboration.

CHANGE:  Going in, this group of scientists was a technical resource ? one of many in a large federal laboratory.  Coming out, this group had become Air Team, specialists in Air Quality Assessment and the “Pollution Solution” for the Air Force.

The team’s sense of self and its capabilities changed.  Abilities to convey their message to stakeholders and funders increased dramatically.  That is, creating a desired identity created confidence as well as language.  Air Team began to take control of its market image by presenting and reinforcing its desired identity.



Air Team rethought its performance measures and chose to broaden their focus.  Identity development taught them that science for science sake would not be enough.  They needed to balance competing sets of criteria for stakeholder satisfaction.

Performance + Protection: Operational performance would be compromised by environmental protection.
Air Team:  Optimum performance of systems and materials within the limits of environmental protection

Product + Process: Both chemicals and processes of using chemicals were sources of pollution:  paint + painting processes, solvents + stripping processes, fuels + combustion processes, …
Air Team:  The best total solution of chemicals and processes

Solutions in the Field:  The best scientific papers won’t solve problems.  Knowledge must drive practical solutions.
Air Team: Strong follow-through from initial analysis to products in the field solving practical, daily problems
Industry Leveraging:  Even when solutions were found, Air Team couldn’t deliver them on their own.  Only industry could create commercial products to provide ongoing solutions.  
Air Team:  Industry partners, influenced by Air Team expertise and actions, creating and delivering products that optimize operations within environmental constraints.

CHANGE:  Air Team evolved from scientists doing science to a team of solution providers, based in powerful science.  Because long-term success depended on much more than lab science, they addressed a wider range of problems and followed them further toward complete solutions.  Indeed, they became aggressive about developing early relationships with stakeholders who could help turn their goals into reality.



A mission defines a sense of purpose that constrains corporate focus.  Effective missions enable decision making by individuals who take greater control of their own contributions to the organization’s success.  For Air Team:

Our mission is to minimize the long-term impact of air pollution on government and industrial operations, cost, and image.
We succeed by facilitating better strategic and tactical decisions through high quality research that leads to practical solutions in the field.

Air Team’s sense of purpose evolved from doing high quality science to using science to deliver practical solutions.  As a knowledge resource, Air Team couldn’t force changes, yet it could enable well-informed decisions.  Few technical teams connect their actions all the way to corporate success.  This team did not settle for a complacent mission.

CHANGE: Air Team now saw itself as a powerful force for change, able to make a positive and important difference.  Not a lab resource tucked away out of sight, Air Team could realize its full potential by influencing the way essential products were made and used.



Goals are desired results toward which we want to work.  Objectives are steps on the way toward goals.  Goals are broad and durable; objectives more focused and changeable with plan period.  As results, we name goals with nouns, then characterize each name with both definitions and statements of success.

Solutions:  Practical mixes of chemicals and processes to minimize atmospheric particulates
•    Optimum balance between product performance and environmental compliance
•    Positive impact on Air Force and DoD operations, costs, and image
•    Positive impact on products, processes, procedures, and public health and welfare
Science:  Research done, papers published, and results applied to real world problems
•    Detailed studies of the atmospheric chemistry of volatile organic compounds
•    Both incremental and groundbreaking results
•    Communication via project reports, professional papers, presentations, cooperative development, and other formats
Growth:  Consistent increase in satisfied customers, solution productivity and personal advancement
•    Growing bodies of innovative solutions, problems solved, capabilities to meet stakeholder needs, and papers published
•    More satisfied stakeholders in the Air Force, DoD, and industry
•    Ongoing personal development and advancement
Influence:  Changes made, due to team efforts, that reduce air pollution
•    A positive difference in terms of product and system design, purchase and acquisition decisions, and advice sought by problem owners and policy makers
•    Frequent Team-member participation on panels reviewing relevant funding proposals
Demand:  Enough work to ensure funding for growth in science, solutions, and influence
•    Win-win situations in which stakeholders are satisfied, and Air Team is confident of its funding and stakeholder base
•    Stakeholder awareness of air pollution issues and potential consequences
•    Air Team visibility with stakeholders and in its technical arena

Characterized goals became durable strategic directions.  Every Air Team action worked to achieve one or more goals.  As with other strategic directions, goals enable self control.  Even tacit Air Force approval of their goals enabled Air Team to build positive momentum.

CHANGE:  These goals focused the Team on meeting stakeholder needs.  Science and engineering were given key roles; personal satisfaction and ongoing job security were included.  Yet Air Team saw that the best way to get to do important science and grow personal satisfaction was to consistently meet stakeholder needs.  That’s a dramatic change of perspective for a science team!  Few scientists and engineers are driven to deliver value to stakeholders.



A strategy is a method for reaching a goal or objective.  Strategies come with costs and risks, so strategizing balances choice of methods with confidence plus available resources.  Air Team’s marketing strategies clustered in five groups.

Relationship Management:  Initiate, develop, and maintain positive, productive relationships with targeted representatives of each category of stakeholder.

Interaction Management:  Proactively define opportunities, attend events, and/or stage events to create interactions between Air Team members and target stakeholders.

Public Relations:  Leverage both existing venues and self-created venues to tell the Air Team story to targeted audiences.
Proposal Management:  Seek funding available through appropriate venues.  Learn the needs to be met, benefits to be offered, and the context of the situation, then develop, deliver, and follow-up on proposals for work and funding.

Contact Management:  Develop and maintain a system to track both opportunities and individuals.

CHANGE: Air Team went in viewing marketing as a tactical activity.  They came out as marketing strategists.  They balanced commitments to science/technology with Team visibility/recognition.  They defined communication success by how well stakeholders stayed on track, stayed involved, continued to learn, and took desired actions as result of communication.


The Situation

Air Team continued to use science to impact both Air Force operations and industry product development.  Interactions with industry multiplied, and partnerships grew stronger.  Their recognition and reputation expanded.  For all of that, in early 1999 Air Team learned that funding could be stopped at the end of the fiscal year.  Most teams would have given up.  After all, they had no control over Defense R&D budgets.  Cost cuts were made at levels not accessible to such a team.

Of course, resumes were updated and job searches begun.  At the same time, however, they began looking for new sources of funding, and they succeeded!  In less than two years of applying innovation principles, they had developed contacts, relationships, and stakeholder satisfaction that could be leveraged for future funding.  The Air Force couldn’t disband Air Team.  The worst possible scenario happened, yet they had enough control of their business to survive.

No technical team in a major organization can guarantee its long-term survival, yet Air Team had been proactive.  They built skills and evolved themselves based on clear understanding of who they could be, who they could serve, and how they could survive.  Air Team still functions today, ten years after choosing to be in control.


The Power of Being Strategic

Paying attention to identity, focus, mission, goals, and strategies is purposeful management of change.  Each conscious decision increases control of our future in a change-based society.  Strategic directions create a foundation for change ? a team that understands itself, its stakeholders, their needs, and required solutions.

Greater focus leads to less floundering.  Purposeful pursuit of goals in context of identity changes what the team accomplishes, for whom, in what time frame, at what priority, with what risk, and with what expected benefits for the team itself.  Technical progress delivers true value to stakeholders, with corresponding return of benefits to the team.

Teams might survive without strategic directions, yet their impact will be smaller.  Team members might be satisfied with science, yet they won’t experience influence over stakeholder decisions or operational practices.  In the long run, their employers will suffer lower corporate performance, missing the strengths such teams could deliver.

Some might argue that this process must hurt the quality of science done.  Air Team found the opposite.  First, without their evolution, a powerful resource of needed science would have been disbanded.  Second, clarity on operational practices enabled focused science.  Third, research requires funding, and the most reliable source of investment is satisfied stakeholders who clearly know who created that satisfaction.

Taking control of one’s business is not at all trivial.  Air Team shows that it can be done and done well.



39. Contrasting this modest effort [of Seymour Cray] with 34 people including the janitor with our vast development activities, I fail to understand why we have lost our industry leadership position by letting someone else offer the world's most powerful computer. (Thomas J Watson, Jr.)

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