Excerpted from: CCL Viewpoint: Becoming a Leader Who Fosters Innovation

Co-authored by David Magellan Horth

Not long ago we spoke to a senior leader in a large multinational organization who voiced his frustration about the lack of innovation in his business – even after a year-long campaign to turn things around. By the time solutions filtered up the hierarchy to him, they were “totally de-risked” and lacked creativity. The culture of the organization led managers to strip away any innovation found in new ideas – rendering solutions that were weak, limited in scope and largely undesirable. The executive said he wanted to create a culture of innovation that would allow ideas to grow and flourish, add value and help the organization achieve its growth targets.

He’s not alone in his concerns, as evidenced by how hot a topic innovation is today. But that wasn’t always the case. At one time, strategy was king. Forecasting, planning and placing smart bets created the power sources within organizations. The future of a business (or a career) followed an established framework. If leaders managed well, success would follow. Today the mantra is, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” In other words your innovation strategy is doomed if the culture won’t support it.

It should be no surprise that in these uncertain times, innovation is the buzzword du jour (again) and remains critical to an organization’s top and bottom line. Without new sources of value – whether that’s defined in terms of quantity of revenue or quality of life – most organizations eventually wither and die. The world around them changes and competitors emerge to provide the same offerings more effectively or efficiently. Research by Soo et al. (2002) concluded, “The greater the amount of innovation, the greater the market and financial performance.” A recent study by Capgemini (2012) comes to the same conclusion and identifies the critical organizational innovation elements that differentiate leaders from laggards, including an explicit innovation strategy, innovation governance and more.

A related IBM global report involving Chief HR Officers (2010) further suggests that while organizations know how to develop strong business managers, they have been largely ineffective at developing creative leaders who can drive results through innovation.

Most organizations that embark on an innovation campaign are out to find breakthroughs or “disruptive” innovations that represent a new way of doing things. Rarely do these innovations emerge, though. And if they do, they almost never make it to the marketplace. That’s because the organization inevitably chokes on the radical nature of the offering, which doesn’t fit into its current reality.

Actively pursuing innovation requires considerable resources and deliberate focus. It requires innovation leadership, support from the organizational hierarchy, and a culture that values and nurtures creativity.

What are you doing to nurture a culture of innovation in your organization?

References:

Capgemini Consulting. (2012). Innovation leadership study: Managing innovation: An insider’s perspective. London, UK: Miller, P., Klokgieters, K., Brankovic, A., & Duppen, F.

Soo, C., Devinney, T., Midgley, D., & Deering, A. (2002). Knowledge management: Philosophy, processes and pitfalls. California Management Review, 44(4),129-150.

2 thoughts on “Innovative Thinking as a Fundamental Leadership Skill

  1. Vernon Myers says:

    Great post! I am not surprised to hear that ideas are de-risked prior to reaching senior leaders. One way to get around this is for senior leaders to provide forums where people throughout the organization can speak directly to them with no filters. This allows the leader to hear ideas in their rawest form – granted he will probably hear lots of ideas that are impractical but if he listens in an open-minded way and is receptive, there is bound to be a nugget of a great idea somewhere within.

    I believe that leaders talk “innovation and creativity,” but instead of going in with a blue-sky, blank sheet innovation mind set, these managers actually mean “constrained” innovation and creativity, in other words they put limits on how far team members can push the envelope – this kills the spirit and intent of creativity for all involved. His people can sense that instead of developing breakthrough ideas, the expectation is that they develop more of the same…and thats what they produce.

    100 Leadership Insights.com

  2. Vernon Myers says:

    Great post! I am not surprised to hear that ideas are de-risked prior to reaching senior leaders. One way to get around this is for senior leaders to provide forums where people throughout the organization can speak directly to them with no filters. This allows the leader to hear ideas in their rawest form – granted he will probably hear lots of ideas that are impractical but if he listens in an open-minded way and is receptive, there is bound to be a nugget of a great idea somewhere within.

    I believe that leaders talk “innovation and creativity,” but instead of going in with a blue-sky, blank sheet innovation mind set, these managers actually mean “constrained” innovation and creativity, in other words they put limits on how far team members can push the envelope – this kills the spirit and intent of creativity for all involved. His people can sense that instead of developing breakthrough ideas, the expectation is that they develop more of the same…and thats what they produce.

    100 Leadership Insights.com

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