Are you a direction setter? As direction setters, leaders ensure their people have a clear direction that frames innovation priorities. They help ensure that it’s clear where fresh ideas and breakthrough projects are needed most. They work hard to create a compelling vision of the future. One that offers the organization’s most creative people a sandbox in which they can operate.
Why Purpose Matters
Creating a compelling vision of the future starts with purpose. Communicating the “why” helps make the decisions meaningful. As a direction setter, you must go beyond the data and tell a compelling story about future potential that engages people more deeply and inspires them to bring their creative best.
Consider the bold direction setting of Steve Jobs who was able to build support for Apple’s dramatic leaps from computers to iPods and iTunes and then again to iPhones and mobile apps. The underlying design and technical expertise that makes these products distinctly Apple remained constant. However, it was Jobs and his team that defined and led the company on a distinctly new path. One that allowed it to enjoy an unprecedented level of success—in a whole new industry. Apple is now the largest music retailer in the world.
Don’t underestimate the courage of these direction setters. Today the path seems obvious, but back then, the outcomes of these choices were not guaranteed. Steve Jobs had the vision and fortitude to stand before the board and defend the opportunity to explore and fail, with the hope that they would explore and succeed.
The Direction Setter Leadership Role
Direction setters create clarity and frame priorities. They also secure funding for these priorities and make sure their innovators know resources are available for solutions that move the business in the intended direction. In addition, leaders help innovators know how far to stretch: Are incremental solutions needed that can be implemented simply and quickly or should innovators reach for bold, disruptive ideas that enable the organization to stake out new territory? Innovators can benefit from clear directions about business strategy, degree and timing of innovation needed, how much risk to take, and how far to stretch.
Specifically, direction setters:
- Bring focus: Gets the organization aligned around the desired future and the innovation priorities that are demanded to achieve the goals.
- Define boundaries: Sets stretch goals and concrete business targets that demand innovative solutions.
- Generate energy: The goal is to connect in a way that will inspire others to engage with the vision, and awaken the passion and imagination in each of those who elect to follow.
- Encourage collaboration: With a compelling future that stretches the capabilities of the enterprise, it becomes clear that no one can succeed on their own.
Establishing a Future-driven Business Strategy
Innovation is a journey into the unknown, and there are multiple paths and many options open to the leadership team. Once emerging trends are clear, leaders need to set the strategy going forward. As you work to establish a future-driven business strategy you’ll consider:
- Future State: Who do you need to become in this emerging future? “Who” you want to become asks more than simply “What” you want to become. “Who” goes beyond the products and services you decide to offer. What you offer, combined with your values, point of view, and what you stand for, all determine your identity as an enterprise. This tells your market and your customers who you intend to become in this emerging future.
- Products: What products and services need to be created that do not currently exist in the enterprise?
- Business Models: What new business models or processes are required? What changes in the organization will be needed to become the kind of enterprise that can succeed in the envisioned future?
- Funding: What’s a realistic budget, including time, headcount and money that will get you where you need to go?
- Reach: How far are you willing to stretch? Will you go beyond your current niche, like Apple did with the iPod?
Planning for the Future
Planning for the future is imperative. The primary reason game-changing innovation fails is because time is not invested up front to align the organization behind a shared strategic blueprint and a shared innovation agenda.
Your ability to mobilize others to invent a positive future will have the biggest impact on your legacy as a leader. To summarize this role in a way that captures the depth of its importance consider these definitions:
Creativity is thinking something different.
Invention is doing or producing something different.
Innovation is making a difference.
As direction setters, leaders ensure their people have a clear direction that frames innovation as a difference maker for the organization. The next installment of the Leading Innovation series shares features of strong customer advocates. If you’d like to read ahead, download the entire chapter today.
This blog post is part of the Leading Innovation series authored by Laszlo Gyorffy, MS. Laszlo is president of the Enterprise Development Group, an international consulting firm specializing in business strategy and innovation. He also is an accomplished speaker, certified instructional designer and trainer, and co-author of Creating Value with CO-STAR: An Innovation Tool for Perfecting and Pitching your Brilliant Ideas and The Global Innovation Science Handbook. Laszlo recently developed the One Hour Innovator a cloud-based toolkit that teaches people how to successfully generate and champion bigger, bolder, and better ideas.