Everyone wants to consider themselves innovators, or at least believe that innovation is happening in their domain. But innovation requires that leaders must commit deeply and believe that the risk is worth the reward.
For many business leaders, regardless of the industry, it can be difficult to embrace creativity and innovation and to commit the necessary resources of time, funding, and staff to develop new methods of doing business. For many, it is not a clear conflict, not guaranteed, immediate, or guaranteed financial return on investment. When it comes to innovation, the greatest return on investment can be the learning and the mindset shift, not just the financial gains.
Leaders need to ask themselves a couple of questions:
“Do I want to be an innovator or a follower?” There is no right answer as both leaders and followers are needed. But one thing to keep in mind is that innovation without failure is impossible.
Thus, the next question emerges: “Which do I value more, taking reasonable risks and learning or being a mainstream adopter?” And again, there is no right answer.
Seth Godin, author and former dot com executive, once said, “No organization ever created an innovation. People innovate, not companies. ”
With that in mind, there are certain “must-haves” for any process. The most important “must-haves” are remembering that internal culture impacts success and support from the top down is absolutely integral.
Real innovation moves the organization forward strategically.
Designate ownership and accountability to measure progress. These measurements will often look quite different from other success metrics, are often more immediately and not immediately financial. These non-financial metrics sometimes make team members feel uncomfortable, and that is okay. Ultimately everyone involved in this process needs to be prepared to create a culture that drives creativity.
Innovation has a clear alignment with organizational business strategy.
Leadership and designated team members There is no point innovating a widget or process that doesn’t move the organization forward.
Innovation requires a defined process and funding.
Leadership should start with a whole year. These dedicated resources include funding, full-time employees, and support from a consultant, such as EPIcenter, to challenge leaders and drive the process. There must be buy-in by the team members with leaders committed to ongoing sightlines of the process.
The right team members need to be at the table.
The technology and business models need to make the decisions. The team should include individuals who are adaptive and tenured, new and nimble, and a mix of subject matter expertise and enthusiasm.
Innovation success requires the right mindset.
The leadership and innovation team must have a mantra of “how can we do” rather than “we can’t” or “we’ve never done that way before” or “it failed before.” There must be a will and desire to work, innovate, fail, resolve, and execute – or at least learn.
Sometimes innovative solutions emerge by the process without a known or stated problem. With proper training and a curious mindset anything is possible.
With these requirements in mind, let’s get back to the initial questions asked of business leaders, but in reverse order this time:
“What do you value more, taking reasonable risks and learning while meeting strategic goals or pure financial gain?”
“Are you okay with failure, adjustments and trying again?”
“Are you an innovator or a follower?”
Again, there is no right or wrong answer. Just know which you are. Otherwise, you’re getting in the way.
Liz Thompson serves as the chief of advisory services at EPIcenter, a Texas-based nonprofit organization with a think tank, incubator, and accelerator focused on energy innovation and thought for the global future.