The Number One Leadership Activity to Drive Innovation

Guest post from Dr. Kumar Mehta:

Every leader wants to consistently create mind-blowing products and offerings that customers love and line up for.  They know that if they don’t innovate, they will be left behind, the world’s simply moving way too fast.  They are looking to institutionalize the innovation process.  This means building a culture where innovation happens every day.  It means creating an environment where innovation is not the domain of a select few individuals, rather every single person believes they can contribute to creating great products.  It means pushing the boundaries in everything you do.  It means a relentless focus on altering customer experiences in meaningful ways.

As a leader you can institutionalize innovation in your organization by creating an innovation biome, or a sustained environment where innovating becomes a habit.  Creating the innovation biome, however, requires all elements (teams, departments, priorities, etc) residing within your organization to act in concert and support each other. If your corporation seeks to alter its genetic code and transform itself into an innovative juggernaut, then it needs to operate with an exceptionally high degree of conviction and shared belief that innovation is a priority.  This is the number one factor that drives organization-wide innovation.

This starts with leadership.  You cannot tiptoe your way into innovation. You simply have to commit to your direction and share your conviction and vision with all related stakeholders, including employees, shareholders, customers, and partners. And everyone around you needs to share in that belief.

Shared belief has incredible power, probably more so than any other factor that drives change. Shared belief in a vision provides everyone involved with the confidence to go all-in and help make the vision a reality. Any ambiguity or second-guessing makes the already challenging task of moving a company in a new direction a lot harder.

Take for example Moore’s Law (the belief that chip capacity would continue to increase exponentially).  While this wasn’t a scientific law, it was a shared belief that has driven the forward progress of the computer industry for decades.  Or take for instance the shared belief inspired by President Kennedy as he boldly stated a vision and commitment to put humans on the moon and return them safely to earth.  A vision that was realized because everyone involved shared in the belief. 

Or learn from Apple’s example, when it launched the iPhone with a degree of commitment and conviction that made irrelevant one of the most desirable products of the time, its own iPod.  There was nothing wishy-washy about the launch of the iPhone, no “minimally viable product,” no “let’s wait and see how it does.”  It was full commitment from the leadership of the organization.  The company went all-in, knowing full well that they were risking the sexiest product of the time with an untested device. 

The more you believe in a vision, the more likely you are to achieve it and, in turn, make the belief real. Belief motivates people to take the necessary actions to make a vision come true, creating an upward cycle.

For the better part of the past decade, most people have considered Apple to be the most innovative company in the world. This is not because Apple kept proclaiming it was innovative; it is because it kept churning out one game-changing product after another. Now, everyone expects Apple to produce nothing short of breathtaking innovation. This shared expectation results in exactly that—breakthrough innovations. The perfect upward spiral. The belief is shared by everyone: Apple’s customers, employees, shareholders, partners, and even competitors.

The first step to creating an innovation biome is to make it clear, through words and actions, that innovation is a priority. Making innovation a shared belief requires actions that go far beyond appointing an innovation czar or developing an innovation dashboard. It requires thinking about innovation in everything you do. It requires not accepting mediocrity and ensuring that every offering, big or small, enhances a customer experience journey in a meaningful way.

Dr. Kumar Mehta, author of THE INNOVATION BIOME, has been at the forefront of innovation, research, and data analytics for over 25 years.  He founded Bridges Insight, an innovation think tank committed to researching innovation and helping organizations accelerate their rate of innovation. He has applied many innovation frameworks in his fourteen years at Microsoft and throughout his tenure building out innovative companies.  Mehta also serves as a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California and serves on the board of The Committee for Children. For more information, please visit www.BridgesInsight.com.


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