As the digital landscape continues to change at a rapid pace, dismantling and disrupting the way that we do business, how can we ensure that our leadership and organisational thinking evolves at the same rate? The CEO is ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the company that they lead, which, in today’s world, means ensuring an organisation can adapt to this fast rate of change. To do this, leaders need to know how to innovate with agility and speed. This means, on the ground during day-to-day work, that each employee has a clear understanding of how they contribute to creating value out of new ideas and a common language to enable them to work together. As a CEO, part of your role is to foster a culture of innovation that can harness the often disparate skills and mindsets required to successfully innovate. The key is to understand that innovation is a journey, which includes spotting trends and discontinuities and generating new ideas, through to investing and implementing those ideas that can potentially have the most impact. The skill is to know how to match people’s strengths to the right part.
How do employees currently react to innovation conversations?
Often, the first people to embrace innovation tend to love ideas and can identify trends, patterns and opportunities. They are curious and fit the classic stereotype of creativity – playful, open-minded and attracted to novelty. Innovation, truly deep and sustainable innovation, combines both creativity and discipline, which are curious bedfellows. It is a considered process that requires a raft of different skills and ways of thinking, combined towards creating a common outcome. In fact, the innovation journey is more like a cycle that can start at any point, not just in the playful and curious spaces. There are probably many employees in your organisation who do not identify with this sense of curiosity, or think that they have light bulb moments, but who are nonetheless crucial to the success of innovation as an outcome. You will not embed an agile innovation culture without showing employees of all stripes and skillsets where they fit in. The innovation culture needs a common framework and language. Within this shared understanding, different styles are more likely to interact with, and appreciate, the contribution of others. Creating the best environment for each stage of the journey, so that people are empowered to contribute their strengths will improve the likelihood of success.
Understanding the innovation journey
Start with aligning teams around PURPOSE, what are they trying to achieve and why, and then move to how they can identify opportunities, whether this is through understanding trends and patterns, often related to changes in human behaviour. Then move to the creative space where people ignite ideas, through practices such as brainstorming and value proposition design. After you have an array of ideas, submit them to analysis and experimentation, separating the good ones from the bad, investigating whether they are useful, not just novel. The interrelationship between these three spaces is often where you see design thinking processes in action. Now, if you have a few really good ideas that have a high chance of working, start to think through how to best make them work. If not, revisit the original identified opportunity or generates alternative ideas and solutions. When ready for investment, innovation leadership is really critical. This is often the graveyard of ideas. Here demonstrate courage; assign resources, whether it is people, time or money. Once ideas are funded, find people who are great at implementation and getting things done. Once the idea is starting to get traction and have an impact, harness the skills of improvement and optimisation to scale and leverage the ideas into other areas of opportunity. There are no straight roads. This is why innovating is often so difficult. Not only are you trying to do something new, you have to harness diversity towards an often an unknown outcome. Creating the best environment for each stage of the journey, so that people are empowered to contribute their strengths will help to create a successful outcome. This means teaching people when to contribute and when to pass the baton on to someone else. This is true collaboration, anchored in a clear purpose that is focused on the success of the idea.
Give each of your employees a proactive role in the innovation journey
Culture could be termed “how we do things around here” and part of what contributes towards this is how leaders act and behave towards the people that they manage and lead. Even more so when it comes to innovating. If people understand their contribution, they will have the confidence and courage to start thinking of themselves as innovators. They will also understand when they will have the most impact. The innovation journey needs a different culture at different points; a culture that allows for ideas to be generated is not the same as one needed to investigate those ideas.
Innovation and the CEO
Lead by example. Understand the part of the innovation journey that you are best at, and be aware of the bias that you will have because of that. Increase yourself, and other, awareness so that you can empower others to cultivate environments that allow their strengths to flourish. Ensure that every skillset and its contribution to innovation is respected and rewarded. This can only be done by understanding the whole of the innovation journey, end-to-end. Diversity is key, if you have a lot of people who are good at generating ideas, you may end up with very little that actually gets done. If you have a lot of people who are good at implementation, you may end up dealing with today’s work very well, but not have the culture of a future ready organisation, that can adapt to change today. In empowering your leaders and employees to develop their creative potential, in the broadest sense of the word, innovation will start to seep through the whole of your organisation, embedding a culture that will increase the likelihood of you creating impactful value out of new ideas.
About the Author
Natalie Turner is a Keynote speaker and Author of the book Yes, You Can Innovate. Discover your innovation strengths and develop your creative potential which was selected as book of the month in both the UK and Singapore earlier this year. She is the Founder and CEO of The Entheo Network, a global innovation company and has exemplary expertise in the field of marketing, business strategy, and leadership development. Under her leadership, the company provides a suite of innovative products and services to help individuals and organizations create new sources of value whilst building innovation skills, capabilities and culture. She is also the inventor of the 6 ‘I’s® Innovation which measures innovation strengths of individuals and teams to unlock the innovation culture in an organization.