Updated: Jan 23
By Tony Vengrove
It’s remarkable: as countless authors and bloggers have waxed poetic about innovation the past several years, most ignored the lack of a clear relationship between specific leadership behaviors and innovation. What does it really take to lead innovation in a corporation? There’s not a tremendous amount of consensus on this critical question.
Instead, we’ve been inundated with thousands of philosophical articles about what innovation is and isn’t, or what it takes to “make it happen.” It sounds so simple – implement a process, follow these 10 tips, and out pops a billion dollar new product. Sure thing.
For those of us who work on the frontlines of corporate innovation, these articles may provide some inspiration and insight, but they rarely deliver on “making innovation happen.” Innovating is just not that simple.
And instead of actually delivering any game-changing innovation, these people who brought you all that sure-fire innovation advice are now back proclaiming that what your organization truly needs is to foster “unbridled creativity.” That’s the ticket! Never mind that we didn’t accomplish any innovation.
I hate to sound cynical, but the problem isn’t a lack of creativity, or ideas for that matter. Most employees are dying for the chance to be more creative at work. The challenge is that many senior leaders simply don’t have a toolbox of creative leadership skills to effectively lead innovation and manage their organization’s creativity. You can have the most innovative people on earth working for you, but if your management team flinches at every sign of uncertainty or risk, the ideas will hit a brick wall.
Senior leaders today sit where they are as a result of their superb analytical skills. They’re exceptional at overseeing processes and business systems to consistently deliver financial results while managing risk. These skills are critically important for innovation, but not necessarily at all stages of the process. If an idea in its infancy is bombarded with too much logic, more than likely it will get suffocated.
If a company wants to produce something truly novel, they better learn how to complement their analytical skills with creative leadership abilities, because most disruptive ideas take a lot of time and patience to shape into existence.
Consultants can strut their philosophy like ostentatious peacocks in search of a mate; but let’s be honest, until they help their clients develop the creative leadership skills necessary to create an idea-friendly climate, much of what they offer won’t significantly improve long-term innovation performance.
In the coming weeks, my Idea Climatology blog will focus on Creative Leadership. We’ll dive deep into specific skill areas that all leaders must develop as they pursue an idea-friendly climate. In addition, we’ll introduce an on-going series of interviews with business leaders who will share their perspective about what it takes to lead others in creating and commercializing ideas.
Stay tuned. I think you’ll get tremendous value from this series!
Miles Finch Innovation helps companies navigate the messy territory of corporate innovation. We’re strategic thinking partners who can help you get unstuck and identify creative solutions to your toughest challenges. We also love to train and speak on the subject of Creative Leadership. Email us to learn how we can help you unlock the creative potential of your employees.