“Jones, we need more innovation around here! Bring me some by Friday.”
Who owns innovation in your organization? Perhaps it’s R&D or Product Development? Or do you view innovation as a fundamental part of your role as a leader?
In the most innovative businesses, leaders don’t delegate innovation; they are personally involved in the process. Research shows that highly innovative companies are led by leaders who set the tone for innovation and who demonstrate innovative thinking and behaviour. The leaders feel personally responsible for rolling up their sleeves and contributing innovative ideas, in addition to hiring and building processes that encourage innovation.
Discovery Skills of Innovative Leaders
A lot of research has focused on the characteristics of innovative people and companies. With hard work and focus, the innovation orientation of a business can be transformed. In the Innovators DNA, Jeﬀrey Dyer, Hal Gregersen and Clayton Christensen describe ﬁve key discovery skills that highly innovative people and companies share:
- Questioning: Challenging assumptions. Asking why? Why not? What if? Showing tolerance for all answers, pushing others to imagine the future, playing devil’s advocate.
- Observing: Intensely observing the world, customers, technologies, and competitors to gain insights about new ways of doing things.
- Networking: Actively seeking new ideas and feedback. Meeting people with diverse backgrounds, perspectives and skills.
- Experimenting: Testing, testing, testing. Taking apart products, ideas and processes. Piloting (prototyping) ideas to test a hypothesis to answer questions that can’t be answered through observation or networking.
- Associating: After exhibiting the above four behaviours, the ability to connect seemingly unrelated ideas and put them together in new ways.
Leadership engagement in innovation encourages a climate of experimentation. The leader sets the expectation that innovation is required for advancement within the company and works to embed a culture and practice of innovation to the core of the business. To cultivate innovation in your leadership approach and your business, consider the following questions.
- Do we expect everyone to offer creative ideas for how the company should change products and processes?
- Are people on our team unafraid to take risks and fail because top management supports and rewards risk taking?
- Does our team have leaders with a well-known track record for generating innovative ideas for new processes, products, services or businesses?
- Do we actively screen for creativity and innovation skills in our hiring practices?
- Do we evaluate an employee’s creativity or innovation skills and consider it an important part of the performance appraisal process?
- Do we often engage in brainstorming to generate wild or very different ideas by drawing analogies from other products, companies or industries?
- Do we encourage team members to ask questions that challenge the status quo or conventional ways of doing things?
- Do we cultivate new ideas by giving people frequent opportunities to observe the activities of customers, competitors, or suppliers?
- Have we instituted formal processes for employees to network outside the company to find new ideas for processes or products?
- Do have processes to allow for frequent experiments (or pilots) of new ideas in search of new innovations?
Some business leaders drive relentlessly toward eﬀective execution and achieving cost and eﬃciency goals. Strong leaders know that innovation is the key to breakthrough products and services and a happy, challenged team. Leaders need to put their energy into the only truly sustainable competitive advantage: a deep well of talent that can innovate and reinvent the business to continually deliver the next great idea or cutting-edge process.