The Heart of Innovation
Thirteen Leadership Tips to Manage Apparent Paradoxes
At the heart of innovation lie forces that simultaneously oppose and complement one another. Like yin and yang, each has its benefits and drawbacks. Together they create value. The innovative leader must recognize and reconcile these forces.
In contemporary organizations four paradoxes come to mind.
First, top-down and bottom-up approaches to engaging people in innovation. Second, the roles of individuals and teams.
Third, the importance of continuity and change.
Fourth, how imagination and reason both drive innovation.
Here are some tips on how to leaders can manage these paradoxes.
Tips to engage people top-down and bottom-up :
Tip #1: Design your innovation strategy formally.
Let your leadership team define your innovation roadmap, the type and pace of innovation, the specific targets, projects, resources and systems to achieve them and the people accountable for their delivery.
Tip #2: Reconsider your business model regularly.
Question your business model at least once every six months. Make sure all your top people are thinking “new and different”, not only “improved”. Involve them in key decisions of strategic change, and keep the door open for proposals that may come from below.
Tip #3: Engage all people in innovation.
Design systems that will encourage all people to actively generate and implement new ideas. Reward creative behaviors as a route to developing an innovation culture.
Tips to nurture both individuality and teamwork :
Tip #4: Provide individuals with time and space for creativity.
Set challenging expectations for creative ideas to all individuals and offer them time to work on their ideas. Design office spaces that enable each person to indulge in uninterrupted bouts of thinking, research and experimentation. Have flexible hours for people to organize their own creative time and place.
Tip #5: Provide teams with time and space for creativity.
Set clear innovation deliverables for expert and multi-disciplinary teams and insist on high trust and clear accountabilities within teams. Design office spaces to facilitate good teamwork. Provide good collaborative software for online idea exchange so people contribute ideas and comments at moments of their choosing.
Tip #6: Train people in creativity and teamwork.
Establish training programs in both creativity and teamwork. Help people learn creative methods, tools and techniques and the fundamentals of effective collaboration.
Tip #7: Provide individuals and teams recognition for innovation.
Reward people on an individual and on a team basis.
Tips to actively manage both change and continuity :
Tip #8: Keep changing yourself all the time.
Make one big personal change every year and a small one every month. You should be convinced of the value of these changes. Ask yourself: “In what ways have I significantly changed in the last year/month?” and “In what ways will I be significantly different next year/month?” Make change a conscious and continuous flow in your life.
Tip #9: Confront the obstacles to change decisively.
Decide which barriers are beyond your control (such as regulations), which barriers are challenging, and which are quite easy to overcome. Recruit allies. Have them tackle the easy obstacles first. Make the most painful changes fast. Then get the dissidents on board. Sell the changes you want with a good mix of passion and reason.
Tip #10: Manage continuity wisely.
Embed periods of consolidation and contemplation, in your change projects. This will help people take in what is happening and make the best of it all. Figure out how to deal with and learn from mistakes and failure. Resist the emergence of new entrenched interests.
Tips to nurture both individuality and teamwork :
Tip #11: Practice thinking the impossible.
Every week, take a real challenge you are faced with and find an impossible solution which, if it were feasible (it mustn’t be), would somehow resolve your challenge. Do it again and again so you have at least ten impossible ideas for each challenge. Ask other people to do the same.
Tip #12: Practice making the impossible possible.
Every week, re-read your challenge of the week before and the impossible ideas you have thought up to confront it. Stretch your logic and scientific faculties to modify or transform those impossible ideas into creative (therefore feasible) solutions. Ask other people to do the same.
Tip #13: Make choices and take action often.
When you are ready, take your creative solutions and make a longlist, then a shortlist of the ones that are most valuable. Analyze them in some depth – costs, benefits, risks, barriers and how to overcome them. Consider how you might manage the trade-off between a very valuable but hard-to-implement solution and a good easier-to-implement alternative. Then choose, act and move on. Ask other people in your organization to join you.