“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have…. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led and how much you get it”
– Steve Jobs
Whilst most business leaders openly acknowledge that innovation is a critical driver of growth and the demand for it has never been so high, so constant and so ‘now’, many are still challenged by how to best lead and manage it. Coupled with the fact that many people don’t actually believe they are capable of it, leaders can face a big challenge in building innovation mindsets in their people and businesses. As a result all too often the innovation process has been relegated to business units such as marketing and research development – where all those ‘creative types’ hang out!
With studies suggesting that over 65% of today’s business leaders still lack the confidence and know how to stimulate innovative thinking in their teams and organisations we are limiting both our immediate results and our future potential. It is clear that a failure to deliver on innovation has the potential to not only hurt our business success but also our own individual career success and that of the people we lead. So how do we approach the building of innovation mindsets?
Innovation so very rarely happens as a result of one or two genius’s that work away on a spark of an idea and reappear with a roadmap for a new direction, approach or way forward. In the Wall Street Journal article, titled Together We Innovate, the authors emphasise the importance of employee collaboration in an effort to generate new ideas and ways of operating. As they state, ‘most innovations are created through networks – groups of people working in concert’.
There is no doubt that workplace culture is the linchpin. Whilst structures and processes are important they are not the key. People and culture are by far the most important drivers of innovation and therefore need to be our focus. By creating the right conditions we not only make better use of our often-untapped talent, we can also allow for dynamic innovation networks to emerge and flourish.
The advantage of building innovation networks is in the shift in emphasis from individual creativity or intelligence to the leveraging of connections and collected experience and knowledge. Networked employees typically innovate at a different level and have an ability to make their ideas ‘catch on’ more quickly. Given that new ideas spur more new ideas, networks then have the capacity to generate a cycle of innovation. They key is to ensure that there is enough diversity of thinking, knowledge and experience to ensure the cross fertilisation of ideas. When they do, leaders are then able to capture more value from their existing resources without embarking on major change initiatives.
As leaders I would encourage you to consider the following six tips that you can do to foster an environment of innovation:
- Create a culture of trust: Innovation requires us to step outside of the ‘everyday way’, to break down the old rules of thought and adopt new ones. It requires new levels of transparency and vulnerability and our people will only engage when they feel safe to do so.
- Create opportunities for everyone to contribute: Innovation requires diversity of thought. Successful leaders know that in order to obtain that diversity we need input from a variety of sources – internally and externally. It is in this diversity of contribution that new ideas and pathways are explored and at a level that could not have been found if we were to attempt it alone.
- Create belief in our abilities to innovate: Innovation requires curiosity of thought. It is through this exploration and the sharing of our thoughts in a safe environment that allows us to recognise how our contribution is valued.
- Make innovation easy to ‘do’: Consider your physical environment, how you interact, what tools you need, what supporting frameworks you need and the space that brings people together. Innovation is also a discipline so it requires us to invest in prioritising time for it.
- Link the process with the outcome: Innovation is not a popularity contest. It is not just a matter of the ‘winning’ idea getting up. To arrive at the ‘winning’ ideas invariably we have had to iterate many times and revisit, review, throw out or tweak and evolve many different thoughts. Individual contributions are all part of the road to the final outcome.
As leaders how we foster innovation matters. Moving it out of the domains of the one or two ‘creative types’ and into the domain of the broader business is critical. In doing so we not only unlock new opportunities for the organisation but also ourselves and the people we lead.
As always I would love to hear your thoughts.