Guest post by Randal Moss:
Great leaders consistently talk about the need for their organization to ‘be innovative’ in their thinking. They recognize that innovation is a strategy for growth and that being able to harness that power will drive their organization’s success and their own as well. Often overlooked by great leaders is that very successful organizational level innovation requires a willingness to take risks, cultural openness to external ideas, and a structure to protect non-traditional ideas as they develop and prove value through proofs of concept testing.
No Guts, No Growth, No Glory
Taking risks is an inextricable part of being innovative. Bets made on well researched unknowns led to the most cutting edge products in history. The hubris to use new materials in creative and non-traditional ways led to Teflon, Kevlar, and Viagra. Great leaders develop an appetite for risk and a willingness to support the development of nontraditional idea when they see the potential for gains. Great leaders know the difference between incremental and exponential growth, and which kind delivers glory.
Culturally Open To Greatness
Great leaders also know that they have to create a culture that supports innovation, and therefore a culture that embraces and celebrates risk. In some industries that is daunting. In companies who are market leaders because ‘they have always done things that way’ innovation can face an uphill battle to drive change. Great leaders challenge their organizations to go beyond the day to day and seek out their full potential. Securing executive support for, and then creating, a formalized innovation program is a critical first step. Executive support sends the message that innovation is a priority. Celebrating innovations publicly is another important activity. Whether new products are commercial blockbusters or break even lines of business, publicly celebrating new ventures reinforces the idea that the company is not satisfied with stagnation and appreciates growth. This is even more critical for new lines of business that came from an employee suggestion or innovation submission.
When organizations continue to promote and call positive attention to internally developed new ideas, and encourage their employees to participate in innovation, they become more open to change and the leads to the genuine consideration of external input. Whether this comes in the form of consumer feedback, or partner input in industrial enterprises. Truly innovative companies are not so conceited that they think only the best ideas come from them. They seek out inspiration externally, and are positioned to create partnerships and joint ventures that drive exponential value. Most importantly great leaders measure and demand innovative thinking and effort from their employees. New products and services do not spontaneously appear – they germinate from a seed idea and are intentionally nurtured into self-sustaining lines of business.
Structure For Success
To drive growth and cultural change you have to make a concerted and intentional effort at innovation. Many of the companies we think as ‘innovative’ actually have innovation labs dedicated to creating new opportunities. Dell, Starbucks, Shell Oil, Amazon, BMW, General Electric Consumer Appliances, Under Armor, Google all have dedicated internal innovation initiatives. These initiatives have a number of similar characteristics; independence, executive support, corporate visibility, and a defined structure and path for attracting ideas and developing them into profitable innovations.
To extract the most value from an external facing organization that values new ideas and wants to monetize them you have to have a process for attracting, evaluating, and prototyping ideas. Great leaders are able to energize people and solicit ideas from every corner of the organization. They can lead a diverse team in setting the business requirements for funding new ideas. They have the wherewithal to know that you get what you measure, they craft a review rubric to ensure smart investments, and shepherd proof-of-concept prototypes through the corporate bureaucracy all the way lines of business.
Great Leaders Embrace Innovation, and Innovation Demands Risks
All of this work demands leaders to take on a certain level of risk. There are no guarantees innovation will deliver a specific ROI. Looking at a wide variety of business across a number of industries there are some facts that cannot be ignored; every industry will be disrupted at some point, business evolution is a prerequisite for longevity, the only change is constant.
To grow you must be innovative.
To be innovative you must take risks.
Taking risks is the mark of a great leader.
Randal C. Moss is an award winning marketer who focuses on engaging organizations and applying technology to drive growth. He has over 12 years of experience including institutionalizing innovation development frameworks, and creating consumer engagement solutions for companies and clients across the CPG, Real Estate, and nonprofit sectors. Randal has spoken at conferences such as SXSW (3X), State of Play, National Human Services Assembly National Meeting, Disney Institute’s Digital Now, and the American Marketing Association Hot Topic Tour.