“We want to create the iPod of our industry.” Dan Buchner hears that a lot from clients these days. His reply? “Do you have Steve Jobs as your CEO?”
Buchner, an award-winning designer, entrepreneur and innovation consultant with global design firm Continuum, may not always be so blunt. But he’s getting at an essential, but often overlooked, element of successful innovation: leadership.
“If you’re not traditionally an innovative company, you don’t become innovative overnight by bringing someone in for a lecture or a project,” says Dan. “There’s work to be done.”
“In particular, there is leadership work to be done,” adds CCL’s David Horth.
Dan and David have spearheaded a partnership between the two organizations to teach “innovation leadership.” Nearly two years ago they realized that Dan’s “design thinking” model for innovation mapped almost directly to David’s work on creative leadership skills. They knew they were on to something.
The design thinking process has six key elements, which are applied to help leaders reframe their challenges, rapidly prototype solutions and focus on the customer experience. “Managers often know some techniques and principles for innovation,” says Dan. “What they don’t know is how to deal with the organizational issues around that. How do I foster this kind of activity? What can I do within my span of influence?”
Before focusing on leading for organizational innovation, Dan and David believe that leaders themselves must develop new ways of thinking and apply this to leadership tasks. “Throughout organizations, we need to bring new thinking and different actions to how we lead, manage and go about our work,” David explains. “We need to be asking ourselves, how can we think differently about our roles? How can we be agile and quick in the absence of information or predictability?”
To help leaders answer the questions at the intersection of innovation and leadership, CCL and Continuum launched the Innovation Leadership workshop. Offered globally as a two-day open-enrollment program, Innovation Leadership sessions are also available as in-house workshops and can be adapted as part of custom programs.
Interest in innovation and the power of design is not new. Businesses, institutions and agencies have talked a lot about innovation in recent years. With the recession, many feel constrained, yet pushed to do more and do better. “In just a couple years, we’ve seen that innovation has shifted from a buzz word to a reality,” Dan notes. “People are realizing, ‘We can’t just mouth the words. We have to actually try and make innovation happen.'”
“Managers and executives are saying, ‘I’ve got to be able to do things in radically different ways, but I’m not sure how to do that’,” says David. “Our role is to help them lead, think and act in support of innovation.”