According to the Center for Creative Leadership, 94% of business leaders believe that innovation is important, but only 14% of them agreed that their organizations are effective at innovation. Obviously, there’s a giant disconnect between knowledge and execution. Innovation leadership is essential and is the key to bridging this gap.
What is Innovation Leadership?
Innovation leadership is the foundation for big ideas. In every industry, businesses are facing enormous challenges ranging from economic uncertainty to new competitors, from international markets to new legislation that is changing how business works. These obstacles cannot be surmounted by continuing “business as usual”. Innovation leadership is vital if your organization is going to grow and thrive.
Throughout the history of business, innovation leadership has led to tremendous breakthroughs. Thomas Edison was one of the first inventors to apply the principles of mass production and large-scale teamwork to the process of invention. As a result, Edison is credited as the creator of the first industrial research laboratory. Edison’s 1,093 U.S. patents, plus dozens in the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, impacted every area of modern life.
Another example of innovation leadership was Henry Ford’s integration of process thinking into production and manufacturing. The application of mass production in manufacturing paved the way for later innovations including the Toyota Production System, which shifted the focus of manufacturing to the flow of the product through the total process.
Key Characteristics of Innovation Leadership
Innovation leadership doesn’t happen by accident. Leaders at every level have to choose to be innovative, and they have to choose to develop the characteristics of innovation leadership in their daily work systems. The key characteristics are:
- Ideation. Idea creation is the cornerstone of all innovation. As you focus on innovation leadership, your first job is to encourage participation. This can mean everything from scheduling specific “fun times” to encourage creative thinking, to having specific innovation days where your team is encouraged to brainstorm creative solutions to problems. Ideation is an ongoing process where you make room for those “aha” moments.
- Idea Evaluation. Not every idea is gold, and that’s OK. As an innovation leader, you should be able to evaluate ideas for feasibility and even offer tweaks to make them more workable. As the leader, you’re most aware of the business environment you’re in and what makes sense. Just be careful not to shoot down ideas simply because they’re novel or unusual!
- Implementation. Nothing is more demoralizing to a team than to come up with innovative ideas and then see nothing happen. As you develop your innovation leadership, be sure to implement the ideas as quickly as possible. Keep your team and the upper level posted on progress. It may encourage faster engagement.
- Evaluation of Results. Innovation leaders should be able to assess performance as they go, be prepared to take action, and course correct when the implementation isn’t going as planned.
The Importance of a Supportive Culture
One of the reasons that top leaders reported a lack of innovation in their organizations is the lack of a supportive culture. Innovation leadership starts with support for new and unusual ideas at the top. Having a supportive culture will drive the success of innovation leadership within teams, among coworkers, from the supervisor, and from the higher levels of the organization.
In the short term, it’s often easier to ignore innovation and continue doing things as they have always been done. It’s comfortable. But it’s also the death knell of the organization. Organizations are not in a static environment. Things are constantly changing around you. Whether it’s a new competitor, innovation in your industry, or a change in regulations, you can’t afford to stick with business as usual.
Your organization should always be looking for the next big idea that will help you get the upper hand. Innovation leadership, at every level, will help you find it.
Regardless of the type of innovation, you’ll need a tool to help you get organized and rapidly implement ideas. Click here to learn more about how IdeaScale can help you!