Organizations underestimate the mindsets that need to be in place to utilize the millions in investments they’re making in innovation.

Too often, when innovation ideas leave innovation teams and need support from the organization at large on their way to market, they get stuck. In other words, new ideas are likely to meet the "frozen middle" resistance.

Anyone who has attempted corporate entrepreneurship knows the real challenges the frozen middle presents: momentum slows, frustration rises, and ideas get sidelined or modified away from the original need they solved.

We can't accept this as the way it is.

At our recent Innov8rs Learning Lab on Innovation Strategy, Leadership, Governance & Portfolio Management, Gretchen Goffe – CEO and Founder at DTLiveLAB – shared how innovators can amplify their impact beyond their direct influence and unfreeze the middle.

How To Unfreeze The Middle?

Melting the middle is all about building networks and coalitions of supporters beyond innovators’ direct reach. While these supporters – or catalysts – don’t have direct innovation responsibility, they help shepherd your innovation programs’ execution through their departments – from legal to finance to IT – where many programs otherwise fade.

“Choose your supporters wisely and partner with enlightened groups or business units to transform how they work to produce your first win. Then rinse and repeat”.

Catalysts are people well-versed in your language and mission; they’re able to come up with solutions and create and shape an inclusive culture of innovation. In fact, it's the catalysts' role to influence those around them, show individuals across the organization how they can contribute, connect them emotionally with the mission, and ultimately unfreeze the middle and get ideas to market.

Catalysts act as advocates and remove roadblocks across the entire organization.

“To melt a sheet of ice with minimum effort for maximum impact, you just have to throw rock salt on it. That rock salt begins to melt particular areas, then slowly spreads out, melting the whole sheet. That's what catalysts do: they gradually influence others and create an innovation culture”.

Creating And Developing Catalysts

However, while we all know it's essential to get catalysts’ support to unfreeze the middle, how to foster and fuel it is still really opaque. How to make that leap? What can innovators do to engage people beyond their teams? Gretchen shares seven keys, closely linked to each other, to creating and developing catalysts (without a big budget).

1. Don’t Jump Right In And Establish Everyone’s Value

You must resist all urges to be a highly productive person and jump right in. Innovators talk a lot about democratizing innovation. Yet what's even more important is democratizing the different personality types of people you need to involve and engage. Establishing and respecting every catalyst’s personality and value is the most effective way to create trust.

2. Have Fun And Experience Empathy

People learn, engage, and work better when they have fun. Furthermore, since 84% of executives believe empathy drives business results, Gretchen recommends having empathy exercises to let people experience empathy first-hand.

“It’s only when you ignite empathy that people really begin to change how they see their work and their world”.

3. Learn With Live Projects

“If you want to learn how to swim, you have to get in the pool”, says Gretchen. And this means people learn more when they’re involved in live projects. They don't just need to experience innovation; rather, they need to experience their ability to innovate.

4. Talk With People

Individual stories are the currency of empathy. The interesting quirks and things that make us human ignite empathy and ultimately inspire innovation. However you design your innovation program, incorporating the opportunity to hear from customers is key. And so, since customer trends are changing rapidly and all the time, all departments must be able to talk to customers live. That’s why you need catalysts from different functions.

5. Have No Experts And Solve ‘Someone Else’s Problem’

To kickstart engagement around innovation, create projects to solve “someone else’s problem”. And this means catalysts don't have to act as experts in their own domain in the innovation space. The goal here is to have the same knowledge level, get your hands dirty, interact, and develop the ability to innovate and look at the world differently.

6. Have Frameworks And Make Taking Action Easier To Imagine

To unfreeze the middle, you should build faster, easier bridges to cross to action. Frameworks like “Ten Types Of Innovation” are a great way to help people find shorter, faster bridges.

7. Be Human And Sponsor Engagement

Last but not least, let people be human. Make them understand that it's okay to make mistakes. This is what eventually will sponsor engagement within organizations around innovation.

There are top-down and bottom-up innovation efforts but those of us tasked with innovation know success in matrixed organizations also depends on how far our influence extends out beyond our direct circle.

Do we get business units on board so they receive new ideas? What about finance, so they don't oppose and resist ideas when they get involved down the line? Or scarce IT resources? As innovators, we need to connect people outside our span of influence to the mission and be surrounded by catalysts who can help us unfreeze the middle and bring ideas all the way to market.

Catalysts don't have a formal innovation role- they may head business units or work in legal, finance, IT, product management, and more. Catalysts are people with a solid understanding of your innovation language who can support you in removing roadblocks along your ideas' journey to market. Just like a little rock salt can melt a sheet of ice, catalysts can unfreeze the middle. You can't do without their support.

The good news is that you don't need a significant budget to develop these catalysts. Providing them with opportunities to have fun working, learn with live projects, and be humans and make mistakes is more than enough.