July 2014 Business SCAN
Innovation processes are useful, but innovative people are essential: individuals need to understand themselves (their capabilities and limitations), and organisations and teams need to have the right mix of behaviours to innovate. This research focuses on how leaders can set the stage for making innovation happen.
Setting the Stage for Innovation
Conventional leadership styles are based on direction-setting. This type of leadership is appropriate when the solution to a problem is known – but it will fail if the problem demands a novel solution, as the correct response cannot be known in advance. The challenge of leading for innovation, therefore, is not about selling a concrete vision to employees and then leading them into action. Instead of asking “How do I make innovation happen?”, innovation leaders should ask “How do I set the stage for it to happen?”
Innovation is often emotionally and intellectually demanding – and innovative problem solving may at times seem unnatural without skilled leadership. The role of an innovation leader should be to create a community that is both willing and able to innovate.
Willingness to innovate depends on three factors:
- Purpose: why we exist
- Shared values: what we agree is important
- Rules of engagement: how we interact with one another and think about problems
Ability to innovate requires three specific and reinforcing capabilities:
- Creative abrasion: the ability to generate ideas through discourse and debate
- Creative resolution: the ability to make integrative decisions that combine disparate or opposing ideas
- Creative agility: the ability to test and experiment through quick pursuit, reflection and judgement
Sources: Hill, A., Brandeau, G., Truelove, E. & Lineback, K. (2014) Collective Genius, HBR, June; Adair, J. (2009) Leadership for Innovation, Kogan Page.
Assess the extent to which your leadership team has created an organisational community that is both willing and able to innovate. What examples of successful innovation have emerged under this leadership and what were the challenges?
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