We are constantly plagued by worn out ideas with the same unproven solutions. Recently, while watching a presidential political debate, I heard the candidates repeat and restate age-old problems without offering a compelling strategy of vision, leadership, or innovation.
The same can be said of worn-out leadership strategies offering no substance but “politically correct fluff,” which vaporizes in the air as soon as it is brought forth for public or organizational consumption.
As a thought leader, innovative disruptor, and an instigator of progress, I’m drawn to converging strategies of innovation by offering a better tomorrow – today. Old labels and old strategies die hard unless new ways of critical thinking bring forth tomorrow’s solutions today. A prime example of this was proffered by Dean Kamen who stated, “Every once in a while, a new technology, an old problem, and a big idea turn into an innovation.”
To further cement these ideas, an interesting article was written by Jeffery Baumgarten in Innovation Management. I would like to highlight his salient points and then comment in parentheses on how to add this to your leadership domain.
But what exactly is an innovative leader? Baumgarten asserts an innovative leader is one who embraces business innovation and is a collaborative affair that runs from idea through development to implementation. This is a process that involves many people who exhibit various expertise.
Finally, an innovative leader does not necessarily need to be the person who creates the idea behind the innovation. Rather, they embrace a vision around a set of ideas or a set of ideas and promote them to fruition. It’s a process that centers on turning vision into reality.
As above, our political candidates and even organizational leaders, often fail by turning theirs and even our collective vision into reality. Thirty-second sound bites sound good to the naïve voter or organizational acolyte, but their words ring hollow for thought leaders centered on innovation and bringing forth workable solutions to age-old problems.
This complex and multi-system approach for the innovative leader is positioned by the following ideas as expressed by Baumgarten, and one in which, I will address below.
1. Imagination and communication: (The innovative leader must possess a powerful imagination coupled with excellent communication skills. In addition, innovative leaders exhibit confidence in their team and inspire everyone to achieve the organizational vision. Motivational and inspirational strategies are the key components for attaining innovation in the organization. Finally, creative strategies and working through multiple solutions bring forth unique problem-solving capabilities.)
2. Willing to kill when necessary: An innovative leader needs to recognize when their project is not working and be willing to kill it, no matter how much emotional investment they have put into it. These leaders know that if the project will not generate sufficient value to warrant continued development, they would do better to invest their energy, resources and time in a new innovative project. This is something many people find difficult to do with pet projects. (“Creating a culture of innovation” enables innovative leaders to move beyond their thoughts and embrace a “culture of creativity,” which leads to thoughts not thought before and inimitable solutions to age-old problems.
3. Relevant expertise: (Innovative leaders have an intuitive understanding and expertise regarding their innovative projects. It’s more than being a content expert area in one of the business disciplines, rather, it is the inherent and deeply profound understanding of their team and products. With the requisite knowledge of people and products, coupled with creativity, vision and leadership, teams can move to the next level of innovation.)
Explained in another cogent way, Albert Einstein once wrote on a blackboard: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”
All too often, imitators of innovation offer solutions or want to count things that should not be counted. It all sounds good, but in the end, as Shakespeare once eloquently said in Macbeth, “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Finally, as discussed in Forbes Magazine and written by Frederick Allen, there are six steps in reorganizing your company with a failed innovation strategy. These factors include:
1. Define top-level ownership of innovation and clear accountabilities.
2. Create an innovation strategy aligned with corporate strategy.
3. Identify white spaces and must-win battles. (Doing the Right Things)
4. Reduce time to market. (Doing Things Right)
5. Increase innovation efficiency. (Doing Things Right)
6. Repeat steps 1-5 as necessary.
As prescribed by William Pollard, “Without change, there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable.”
In the final analysis, innovation rides in tandem with being a thought leader. It centers on embracing critical thinking, a multi-system problem-based approach, and, thereby igniting the creativity and vision of the problem trying to be solved. It requires confidence, emotional intelligence, and the ability to lead your team without micro-managing or stifling their collective creativity.
The effective innovative leader coalesces these factors and interweaves them in the collaborative culture of the organization, and as a result, unique solutions are brought forth.
Remember in the end, and as illustrated by Charles Kettering, “If you have always done it that way, it is probably wrong.”