Today’s post was co-authored by Maureen Metcalf and Kara Rising, new member of the Metcalf & Associates coaching team. Innovation is a key differentiator for a business to thrive in this time of dramatic change. Are you experimenting with new behaviors and ideas to keep your company and skills up to date or are depreciating as a leader? Julie Anixter, the executive director of Innovation Excellence shares her insight on how she defines innovation and what steps are needed to be a successful innovating leader and company and not fall behind the times or lose value with Maureen Metcalf during a Voice America interview.
Innovation is a popular buzzword today and it’s not surprising given how important it is to a thriving business. Many professionals and leaders see innovation as a four letter word with the lens that only the truly unique and talented are able to be innovators. However, innovation is just creating something new that adds value. The truth is that as humans we are innately creative and are innovating without knowing it or labeling it as such. It is in our blood, it can be learned, it can be taught and as Julie points out it “is our birthright”. There is only one way that innovation should be intimidating and that is if you believe you are unable to learn. Innovation is more than just a word that leaders throw around, it is creativity, it is problem solving, it is curiosity and critical thinking. The people who created Uber, a multibillion dollar company currently disrupting the whole transportation business, looked around at the current taxi system and said “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could track, call and pay for a taxi all on our iPhones?” They saw the world with a critical lens to identify a need and created something from that. That’s innovation.
The question from this is, “How willing are you to try new things and keep making them work?”
- Failure will happen with innovation but as Thomas Edison said “I didn’t succeed, I failed a thousand times”. Look at innovation through the mind of a scientist – we are then able to celebrate not only our successes but also our failures. Each failure brings data with it that can be absorbed into the process to bring us that much closer to solving the problem. Today’s businesses don’t view failure as something to be celebrated, only because they don’t always have the time or budget to keep experimenting with things that don’t work.
- Well-structured data and analytics programs are critical. By gathering correct data from users and the market we can easily and more accurately predict what is more likely to be successful.
- Innovation demands a different mindset, one that is away from perfectionism. Google Glass is a perfect example of an idea that was experimented with but ultimately did not succeed, and it is because Google is willing to value innovation and try despite failure that makes it such an innovative and successful company.
- Organizational Leadership is the most important factor that dictates the success or failure of innovation. They are so inherently intertwined that neither can be successful without the other.
- Board support is also critical to promote a successful innovative company, they make a structural commitment to support innovation, promote diversity, expect solid data gathering, and ensure they retain innovative leaders.
Julie points out that there are many models for innovation that are being used in today’s climate, but one in particular that stands out is from Steve Coley, called H1, H2, H3 all standing for Horizon 1, Horizon 2 and Horizon 3. Each of these horizons represents a facet of your business that must be focused on to achieve growth in business. H1 being your core business, H2 being adjacencies (what opportunities do you have access to), and H3 being disrupting the field. The business that focuses exclusively on H1 and does nothing with the other horizons will not succeed, and it is those companies we see falling off the Fortune 500 list today.
For innovation to thrive in a workplace, the leader must value innovation enough to allow a space to be created for workers to be able to feel the freedom to create and express those ideas in a safe place. This requires a leader to be healthy physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. If an employee feels that their colleagues or leader will not value their input or will dismiss their ideas or creates a fear of failure climate, innovation will not survive and will be squelched. Leaders also have to enable a climate that can tolerate risk because innovation is inherently risky. Judith Blazer in Conversational Intelligence, talks about how when we have the ability to co-create, co-discover and collaborate we enable the release of the hormone oxytocin, the bonding hormone, and creates in us the confidence and good feeling to continue. However when we are flooded with cortisol, the stress hormone, innovation and creativity die.
Diversity is important because it allows us to enter the real world and leave the safety of our boxes to get a new viewpoint of the problem as well as new solutions. This means choosing projects that are uncomfortable and out of your skill set to create the neuro-pathways to build innovation. Julie brings up a good exercise titled “Borrowing Brilliance”. Think of your favorite innovator, Disney, Google, Virgin, Amazon… how would they run your company?
Innovation is a necessity in our fast paced global world, to make it work we must have several elements present: a strong diverse team, an inspirational vision, clear goals to reach those visions, time dedicated to accomplishing goals, financial and human resources, stimulus to innovate, political buffers to provide a safe environment for innovation, good integrators between the data and the innovators, and solid analytics. How does your business stack up? How are you innovating not only in business but also in your personal life? What have you learned from Julie today that you can apply to take your innovation to the next level?
Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible, iHeartRADIO, and NPR One. Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.
photo credit: www.flickr.com Dean Meyers