5 Tips for Leading Innovation: from the Center for Creative Leadership

5 tips graphicWhat gets in the way of innovation according to the Center for Creative Leadership’s David Horth and Jonathan Vehar? It’s the full commitment of leaders to practice new ways of leading while continuing to efficiently and effectively manage the core business.

Leading innovation they say requires new mindsets, skillsets and toolsets that they wrote about in Becoming a Leader Who Fosters Innovation. In CCL’s February newsletter, they offer a few suggestions to get you thinking as you gear up to celebrate World Creativity and Innovation Week April 15 – 21.   Thanks guys!

Commit. Innovation requires resources and deliberate focus. To break down the organizational barriers to innovation, ensure that people have appropriate governance, funding, resources, support and access to decision-makers.

“But don’t launch a big innovation initiative, contest or campaign,” Vehar warns. “It’s bound to backfire.”

Innovation is at its best when it has a job to do. Start with a key organizational issue assigned to a small group and give them your best leadership and support. Then get out of their way so they can find innovative resolutions to the challenge. Create simple and effective ways to reinforce the message that innovation is important for all functions in the organization. Speak in compelling and simple terms that motivate people to think and do things differently (but not just for the sake of it!).

Work on the culture. Shift away from the “management of creativity” (a control mindset) and towards “leadership for innovation,” which calls for developing a culture and climate that promotes and acknowledges the creative process. Without the supporting culture, breakthroughs and meaningful innovations that challenge the status quo rarely emerge. If radical ideas surface, they often never make it to the marketplace or get implemented as innovations. Such ideas are typically rejected before they get very far.

“Innovation leadership goes against the grain of organizations that have been built on the foundation of operational efficiency and repeatable processes,” says Horth. “Innovation and efficiency must co-exist. If this tension is embraced, it becomes a source of all it takes to transform ideas into innovations — but it takes time and deep understanding of the leadership culture so the two don’t cancel each other out.”

Accept risk — really. Innovation rarely works according to a predetermined plan. In a culture where it’s possible for people to try, make mistakes and learn from what happens, innovations can find their own path, flourish and add value. Even so, the success of a new product, service or process might not be guaranteed. What you must demand and can expect is learning — and the chance to succeed the next time around. This is the basis of de-risking by experimenting and rapid prototyping.

Hone your own creative competencies. Most business leaders have bought into the myth that people are either creative or not. This myth is probably considered fact in your organization — and, as a result, your drive for innovation is going nowhere. To change this pattern, you must first get in touch with your own innovation thinking skills, including the ability to defer judgment, tolerate ambiguity and be genuinely curious. Be a model; innovation is part of your job, too.

Finally, nothing kills innovation more than the “know-it-all leader.” A leader’s job is not to tell people how to do things, nor is it to have all the great ideas.

“Model appropriate humility, offer up your best challenge and then get out of the way,” says Vehar. “When you create the culture and step back, people will amaze you with novel, useful and potentially valuable solutions.”

Download the free CCL white paper, Becoming a Leader Who Fosters Innovation. And read 7 Innovation Myths That Kill Performance on Forbes.com

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