The Innovation Engine
Question No. 1 for Managers of Innovation
When you introduce your vision to have your company be more innovative, you may think your employees will ask about cost, potential audience, probable success rates, how long will it take to get to market, and the like. And they will. Out loud.
But the first (unasked) question that pops into their heads is going to be: "Why should I follow you?" By which they mean: "Why should I believe you are going to take us where we need to go?"
Even though they are (probably) not going to ask you those things directly, you need to answer their unspoken concerns before you do anything else. Otherwise, you are not going to get either their full attention or their best work.
So how should you address their concerns, spoken or not? Our answer has three parts. We are not going to discuss the theory of innovation leadership. We're going to talk about the deliberate practice, giving you the essential principles to employ. We guarantee that if you put these into practice, you will become a much more effective leader, especially when it comes to innovation.
1. Focus on the Essential
Innovation leaders focus on the essential, vs. the important. It's easy to spend your time on the important—for example, coming up with a new product to satisfy the salesforce's desire to offer something new. But necessary as that is, doing so isn't really going to inspire anyone.
In contrast, creating a culture that celebrates failure—because if you don't take risks, you will never develop a game-changing product or service—or believing that great ideas can come from anywhere are essential beliefs that can shape everything your organization does.
Here's another way of thinking about this: The important is rational; essentials are emotional. The important you put on a to-do list; essentials goes on a to-die-for list.
2. Stay Above the Drama
Recessions/transitions/restructurings are by definition temporary. Understanding that is key to your ability to focus on the desired outcome and the kind of organization you want to build.
What it comes down to is this: Are you shaping the future, or reacting to your perception of it?
Here's an easy way to tell. Check your emotional state.
Do you act like a victim? (If you complain about anything, the answer is yes.)
Are you looking for someone or something to blame? (If you are using the recession as a excuse, for example, the answer is yes.)
If you answer yes to these questions and others like them, you have allowed yourself to be part of the drama. This is not a good thing for the leader of a team, a brand, or a company because you—and the company—are wasting energy and focusing on the wrong things.
3. Lean into Adversity and Find Opportunities
We have written a lot about this during the economic downturn.
But adversity isn't going to end just because the recession does. There always will be a competitor who does the unexpected and up-ends your market. You can bet in the coming months consumers are going to demand something you just can't provide today. Financing that you were absolutely certain was going to be there suddenly won't be.
When those things occur, conservative managers act as they always have: They slash marketing budgets. They hunker down and go the safe route. ("Hey, I know—instead of doing something daring, why don't we line extend our best product?")
Want to change history? Don't be one of those people. Stick to your growth strategy. ALWAYS.
Believe in yourself, and if you need inspiration to stay the course, borrow from the best. Warren Buffett made his fortune by following an adage he came up with a long time ago: "Be fearful when others are greedy—be greedy when others are fearful."
If you apply these three ideas, people will be able to supply their own answer when they initially question your vision.
Why should your people follow you? Because you have demonstrated by words and actions that you understand and live these three pillars of innovation leadership, in the best and worst of times.