Pulled from the white paper, “Becoming a Leader Who Fosters Innovation,” by David Magellan Horth and Jonathan Vehar

We’ve seen that innovation is a compelling object for organizations as they look for ways to grow their top line via their pipeline.  And many organizations go right to efforts focused on creating new output, usually in the form of products or services.  But that works best when you’re paying attention to what makes output happen.

How do you know where to focus your innovation leadership development efforts so that you and your organization have the capacity you need? It becomes easier to diagnose areas needing attention when you tease apart several elements of innovation, specifically: 1) process, 2) context, 3) output and 4) people (Rhodes, 1961; Vehar, 2008).  This is the final post of this four part serial focused on people.

At the end of the day, innovation boils down to people. Someday artificial intelligence may do our innovation work for us, but until then, we need people with an innovative mindset working together to understand and clarify the challenge, generate and refine ideas, develop solutions and plans, and implement the innovation to realize a quantifiable gain. As important as things like compensation structures, idea management systems and online collaboration tools are, people are the key driver. Only by developing the innovation capacity of the people in the organization can the real promise of innovation be realized.

Needless to say, at the Center for Creative Leadership, we’re big advocates of educating people in the toolset, mindset, and skillset for innovation.  Until there is the commitment to make that happen, here are five suggestions to get people on board:

  1. Create a mandate for change, backed by a strategy that embraces innovation. If you are not senior enough to create the mandate, gather peers around you who share your passion for innovation and collectively approach those who can create the mandate, or scale it back to a level where you have authority to make it happen. Use the IBM 2010 CEO Study, IBM 2011 Creative Leadership Studies, 2012 Capgemini Innovation Leadership Study and other evidence to get their attention.
  2. Model what it will take individually and collectively for the organization to become more innovative. It is particularly important for senior leaders to walk the talk.  Our colleagues McGuire and Rhodes (2009) describe this as “head room,” demonstrating courage, thoughtfulness and vulnerability and modeling new behaviors that facilitate a shift in culture. Make managing the tension between business thinking and innovative thinking a priority.
  3. Communicate challenging strategic issues throughout the organization. Use them as vehicles for promoting collaboration and seeking creative ideas. The IRS, for example, creates a rolling strategy, rather than reinventing the wheel on a yearly basis. The issues become focal points for employee creativity – rather than random contributions to a suggestion box.
  4. Create highly diverse teams to address strategic issues. Help them overcome limiting differences so diversity becomes a source of novel ideas.
  5. Champion ideas that don’t quite fit and network with your peers to find a home for them. Actively break down barriers to innovation, including internal politics, and destructive criticism, as well as hurdles, gates and other and unnecessary systems.

Those are five suggestions, but not the only five ways to help people jumpstart their innovative thinking.

What are your suggestions, tactics or strategies?

 Read the full whitepaper here.

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