Leadership and Innovation

Steve Jobs once said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower

It made me think that success in any endeavour today depends on our ability to create new things, embrace new ideas, experiment, risk… and change.   Without this, business, large and small, loses its competitive edge and customers drift away, looking for the next best thing.

Other organizations find themselves in the shallow end of a small and crowded funding pool, struggling to raise enough profile to fulfill their purpose.

There is a huge role for leadership in creating and living a culture that values innovation.  In this culture, innovation becomes everybody’s job, with all brains engaged in the pursuit of what now and what’s next.

So, the question is, what must be present and  valued in an organization in order to create this innovative culture?

Well, probably lots of things but this is what comes to mind first for me:

Diversity ~ in every way that one human being is different from another.

While our natural tendency is to gravitate towards those who are like us, innovation lies most often in unexplored places and with people who vary in thought, background, experience, gender, age, ethnicity and skill.  The wider the net is cast, the greater the opportunity for innovation.

Relentless Change ~ as an accepted norm.

Those who embrace innovation, also embrace change.  They expect it.  They create it. They even demand it.  Innovation and change are inextricably linked.  As the song goes, “ you can’t have one without the other

Open communication ~ at all levels

Innovation requires us to listen deeply, speak candidly, question constantly, challenge openly, and get a little messy in the process.  In other words, an organization that values innovation will be light on bureaucracy and heavy on curiosity and transparency.

Failure ~ as a learning tool

In order to break through the barriers of sameness and routine, we have to experiment and risk failure.  Failure happens. In an innovative environment it is also expected because with each defeat we get closer to learning about what it will take to succeed.

There are, of course some structural considerations in the development of an innovative organization.  For instance, if you expect people to be at their most creative it’s probably not a good idea to put them in an office structure that includes a maze of Dilbert style cubicles.  Creativity has its own demands and so flexibility in the way people work, and when, is often a more appropriate and productive choice.

There are other possible structures too, ones designed to capture and process ideas as they are born and ones that reward both successes and failures.

To me, though, however we go about it, the goal for the leader is to make it possible for as many people as possible to contribute their most creative thoughts and abilities to the business, whatever that business might be.

And, speaking of creative, in my Internet meanderings, I came across one Jeremy Gutsche, a Canadian innovation expert and chief “Trend Spotter” at TrendHunter.com.  Jeremy  maintains that our current precarious economic climate presents much opportunity for innovation. Here, in a keynote presentation, he has some really interesting ideas to share about innovation and culture.  It is thirty minutes long but well worth the time.

So, what would you add to the list of must have values or structures for an innovative culture to thrive?  How do you encourage innovation in your organization?



Filed under Employee engagement, Establishing Direction, Leadership, Leadership Values, Leading Change, Organizational Effectiveness, Uncategorized

4 responses to “Leadership and Innovation

  1. Terry Thomas

    Hi Gwyn,

    It’s amazing that when I check in, I am blessed with a message that really speaks to me. I’ve just finished my summer class about performance improvement. Many of those ideas focus on the use of control charts and reducing variances, which seems just the opposite of innovation. So you have given me food for thought. How do you develop, or expand, an attitude of creativity and innovation within bureaucratic boundaries?

    Thanks for helping me see past the limitations to the limitless possibilities!

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Terry ~ That is a good question indeed and frankly one to which I have no answer. Perhaps it is that while there are always going to be boundaries, there is more flexibility within them when 1. we understand their purpose and 2. more people have a say in creating them and/or changing them when they outlive their usefulness.
      Glad to see you here again! Thanks for adding more grist to the thought mill 🙂

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