3 Qualities of Innovation Leaders

Elephant With Butterfly Wings

When You Need Radical Innovation

Innovation.

It’s at the top of nearly every organization’s strategic priority list. Whether due to tepid growth, robust competition, globalization, budget constraints, or a myriad of other reasons, almost every organization is seeking innovation. Looking for the next big thing to transform the business and to improve a customer’s experience is always top of mind for a leadership team.

 

“Don’t worry about failure; you only have to be right once.” –Drew Houston

 

Steven Hoffman is Captain and CEO of Founders Space, a Top 10 Incubator in Inc. and the #1 Accelerator for startups coming to Silicon Valley from overseas in Forbes. He is constantly innovating, and he is a serial entrepreneur and investor. From his vantage point, he’s seen what works and what doesn’t. His book, Make Elephants Fly: The Process of Radical Innovation, is a practical guide to help startups achieve breakthrough growth and help more established organizations find a path to successful innovation.

It is a compelling read, filled with great examples to help you achieve faster growth. I recently spoke with Steve about his book.

 

“Copying is a brilliant business strategy.” –Steven Hoffman

 

Copying is Brilliant

One of your chapters is focused on copying vs. creating. You say, “Copying is a brilliant business strategy.” What role should copying play in radical innovation?

All great innovations are built on top of previous discoveries. Copying is an essential starting point. Steve Jobs copied Palm Pilot when developing the iPhone. Mark Zuckerberg copied Friendster and Myspace when developing Facebook. Brian Chesky copied Craigslist when developing Airbnb. But all these brilliant entrepreneurs innovated radically, and that’s why they were able to breakthrough and become so much bigger than their predecessors.

To innovate, you must start with something, and it helps to pick a business model that works. That’s where copying comes in. Once you’ve identified the customer need, then you must figure out how to radically improve it. There are only two ways to break through:

1) You create a product that is exponentially better. This is what Google did with its search engine. It was ten times better than the preceding search engines.

2) You create something new, something that offers a different value than the competition. This is what Twitter did with its micro-blogging platform. It wasn’t like a typical blog because it limited posts to 140 characters, which created an entirely new experience for readers and bloggers.

How Leaders Create A Compelling Vision to Engage & Inspire

company vision

Lead With Vision

Leaders create a vision and engage a community to achieve it.

What does it mean to lead with vision?

It’s a question that authors Bonnie Hagemann, Simon Vetter, and John Maketa researched extensively, surveying over 400 companies in search of the answer.

I recently spoke with the authors about their new book, LEADING WITH VISION: The Leader’s Blueprint for Creating a Compelling Vision and Engaging the Workforce.

 

Would you share the story about “going up the stairs two steps at a time” and how it impacted your view of leadership and culture?

Yes, of course.  Back in 2006 I had a meeting with Jim Bolt, the founder of Executive Development Associates (EDA), to discuss how I would run the company. Jim had been developing senior leaders since the early 1980s and was a renowned expert in the field. I knew I had much to learn from Jim and hoped we could work together. I didn’t know at the time that the very first piece of advice he would give me would shape and inform every leadership decision I have made since. Before I left that meeting, Jim handed me a book from his shelf called Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard, founder and CEO of Patagonia, a sports clothing company.

The book is the story of Patagonia with an emphasis, almost a plea, for sustainability.  Jim wanted me to start thinking about how we could help with this effort, I read the book but it was something else within that captured my attention. The CEO of Patagonia wanted to build an organization where employees were compelled to come to work. Yvon Chouinard wanted a company where employees were a part of their environmental mission.  He wanted employees to be wholly engaged and committed.  He said, “Work had to be enjoyable on a daily basis. We all had to come to work on the balls of our feet and go up the stairs two steps at a time” (Chouinard 2005, 45).

That statement struck me as extremely important.  Imagine the creativity and courage and productivity that would come from a workforce like that.  The power of it is immeasurable.  That is what visionary leadership can do.  It can unleash the power of the workforce.

 

Visionary leaders create a clear picture of a positive future state.

 

The 4 C’s of a Visionary Leader

What’s your definition of a visionary leader?

A visionary leader is a person who steps out and creates a clear picture of a positive future state.  It takes a lot of courage because creating a vision for the future is basically imagining what could be and what should be.  That feels very risky for leaders.  It is stepping out of the norm.  There are certain things they will need to do.  In the book we explain further by putting it into 4 Cs.  They must:

  1. Embody courage,
  2. Forge clarity,
  3. Build connectedness, and
  4. Shape the culture.

 

What advice do you have for a leader struggling with creating a compelling vision? 

How A Leader’s Personality Impacts the Ability to Win

built for growth

Built for Growth

Many business books are written on how to innovate, achieve faster growth, or beat the competition. I’ve not read many that focus on the personality of the leader. But the founder’s personality has a dramatic impact on all aspects of the company culture and its potential.

That’s the core focus of Chris Kuenne and John Danner’s new book, BUILT FOR GROWTH: How Builder Personality Shapes Your Business, Your Team, and Your Ability to Win.

If entrepreneurs understand their personalities, it will help them choose the right team to enhance their strengths and manage around their weaknesses.

I recently spoke with the authors about their fascinating research into personality in this context. John Danner is a senior fellow at the University of California Berkley’s Institute for Business Innovation. A faculty member, a business adviser, and an entrepreneur, he speaks widely on topics from innovation to strategy. Chris Kuenne is a member of Princeton University’s entrepreneurship faculty, a growth capital investor, an entrepreneur, and a speaker.

 

“To win in the twenty-first century, you must empower others.” -Jack Ma

 

3 Reasons Personality is Misunderstood

Personality is one of the least understood elements of entrepreneurial and business success. Why is that still the case after decades of study and research?

We think there might be three converging reasons. First, the business world often tends to overlook introspection and reflection in its bias for action and results, so the issue of who you are can get lost in the impatient focus on what you’ve done. The “do” trumps the “who.” But as any manager or leader knows, personality does matter . . . a lot; so that action-bias has left a void in our understanding.

Second, we love icons. Movies and the media naturally latch onto a compelling storyline, a fascinating individual, and retell that one person’s experience, character and personality. But icons can quickly become stereotypes, and those stereotypes reinforce the notion that you have to be an extraordinarily exceptional person to find success as an entrepreneur. That shorthand can substitute for a deeper understanding of what’s really at play here. In other words, every entrepreneur doesn’t have to be a Steve Jobs or Elon Musk to be successful; our research discovered there are four distinct personalities of successful entrepreneurs. And there are likely millions of individuals the world over who share those same personality patterns.

Third, although most people are intensely curious about who they are and how they’re wired, most personality assessments are ill-suited to the task of cracking the code of successful business building. Many address very broad issues, e.g., am I an extrovert or introvert, a Type A or Type B, etc. Or they’re designed to answer other questions in personal domains, like who might be a good match for me, what music might I like, etc.

Some broad-gauge tools can help people decide whether they might be cut out for entrepreneurship generally, e.g., are they comfortable with taking risks or working for themselves? But those resources don’t address the fundamental question: what are the key personality characteristics of the women and men who actually succeed in building lasting businesses of impressive scale? What makes those individuals tick, and am I like any of them?

And context is key here; people want to know about personalities in action in particular settings. That’s why we concentrated on examining personalities in the context of successful business ventures and used a patented Personality-ClusteringTM methodology that has proven its effectiveness in decoding specific customer behavior in hundreds of markets around the world.

But our research is just a first step in understanding the central mystery of the who of successful entrepreneurship. We invite others to build upon our findings as we refine our own work. After all, entrepreneurship is vital to economic growth and opportunity globally. We welcome others’ insights into this complicated and essential domain of human endeavor.

 

“Teams need captains, and vice versa-if you want to get things done.” -Mark Coopersmith

 

4 Types of Builder Personalities

Briefly walk through the four types of Builder personalities.

The Driver: Relentless, Commercially Focused, and Highly Confident – Drivers can’t help themselves. They have to become builders of business or social ventures of their own as a means of self-validation. Entrepreneurship is almost hardwired into their very identity. They are supremely confident individuals, fixated on their products, relentless in pursuing commercial success based on their uncanny anticipation of what markets and customers are looking for. Drivers – like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk – often don’t last long as employees in other people’s organizations. They eschew rules and bureaucracy, seeing them as tools to focus the average person, yet often confine the truly gifted, independent-thinking actor. These builders are willing to do whatever it takes to realize the commercial success inherent in what they believe is their unbounded potential, in fact their destiny.

How Women Entrepreneurs Can Think Bigger

female entrepreneur

Go All-In

 

Are you thinking big enough?

Do you have what it takes?

Are you ready to go ALL-IN?

 

Stephanie Breedlove is the Co-Founder of Care.com HomePay and author of All In: How Women Entrepreneurs Can Think Bigger, Build Sustainable Businesses, and Change the World.

I recently caught up with Stephanie to talk about the lessons she has learned from her experiences as an entrepreneur. These lessons and her advice apply to all entrepreneurs, but her new book includes specific advice for women.

 

Called to Entrepreneurship

How do you know if you’re called to be an entrepreneur?

In choosing entrepreneurship, you are required to take on risk, barriers, financial strain, and uncertainty in virtually every area of life – from the possibility of failure, to the unknown of the size of success if you make it, to what your career will look like as you navigate the journey. In a nutshell, it’s often bring-ya-to-your-knees work and is not sexy, contrary to what the media may lead you to believe. Yes, there is potential upside in entrepreneurship, but who would logically sign on for the guaranteed difficulties if not called?

So how do you know if you are called? One of the beauties of entrepreneurship is that there is no standard or template, so I think most of our callings are as unique as a fingerprint. However, I do believe we have a set of common ideals and a way of seeing the world that builds a foundation common to most entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship is very hot and trendy today, but it is not a path that will be successful or enjoyable if it is not where your best talents live. I had a thriving corporate career prior to taking the leap into entrepreneurship, with the status and ego that accompany the corporate position. The leap into entrepreneurship was very humbling, yet I couldn’t have been more in my element and comfortable in my own skin – I knew it was where I belonged. Here’s my list to help you know if you are being called, or not.

 

How to Know if You Have the Call

You might be called to entrepreneurship if…

  1. You are going to a new endeavor, not running from your current situation.
  2. You have an idea that will create value.
  3. You have an idea that will grow and potentially create wealth.
  4. You believe your authentic way of working, building or delivering is ahead of its time and of greater value than what is currently available on the market.
  5. You feel being a Jack or Jill of All Trades is a valuable skill, and you enjoy tackling new responsibilities with which you have no experience.
  6. You think broadly and can sew all aspects of a business together to create overarching success.
  7. You have smart but blind optimism in the long-term potential of your idea – enough to thrive in the lean years.
  8. You are excited about working harder than you have ever worked, even if it means being without a paycheck (for a while).

You are not being called to entrepreneurship if…

How to Live Eyes Wide Open in a World That Can’t See Clearly

sunglasses on a wood table. live eyes wide open

Live Eyes Wide Open

 

“Worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” -Helen Keller

 

If you want to read an inspirational story of triumph over adversity, of overcoming challenges, this is it.

Isaac Lidsky played “Weasel” on Saved by the Bell: The New Class. He graduated – at nineteen – from Harvard with degrees in math and computer science. He then went on to Harvard Law School and then served as a law clerk at the Supreme Court for Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor. His legal career had him winning all of his dozen plus appeals in federal court before he went on the start a tech company. Enough? No. He then went into construction and succeeded again. He also has founded a non-profit called Hope for Vision.

Wow. That’s an amazing track record of success in multiple fields.

All that success and he makes it seem so easy.

Then you learn that he was born with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a rare degenerative disease that caused gradual loss of sight and now blindness.

Isaac has learned to live with his “Eyes Wide Open.” His new book is called Eyes Wide Open: Overcoming Obstacles and Recognizing Opportunities in a World That Can’t See Clearly. I found it a powerfully motivating read and followed up with the actor turned entrepreneur to learn more about his uniquely positive attitude in the midst of what would stop many of us in our tracks.

 

“Living with your eyes open and living eyes wide open are two very different things.” -Isaac Lidsky

 

Stay Positive Despite the Circumstances

You’ve been through trial after trial and continue to see success. How do you stay positive despite the circumstances?

In every moment, we choose how we want to live our lives and who we want to be, no matter what circumstances we face. There are always people who did far more with far less and were far happier doing it. So, it’s not our circumstances that govern the lives we experience. How those circumstances manifest themselves in our realities is within our control.

 

“In the face of great challenges, you can choose to live reactively as a victim, or choose to proactively take control, with awareness and accountability.” -Isaac Lidsky