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 Servant Leaders Achieve Better Results

bridge to growth

How Servant Leaders Achieve Better Results

Recent studies show that only about 20 percent of workers understand their company’s mission and goals. Only 21 percent say they would “go the extra mile.” Less than 40 percent believes senior leaders communicate openly and honestly.

Today many feel that they are over-managed and under-led.

Jude Rake has over 35 years leading high-performance teams. He is the founder and CEO of JDR Growth Partners, a leadership consulting firm.

I’ve written and spoken about servant leadership all over the world. And so I read with great interest Jude’s new book, The Bridge to Growth: How Servant Leaders Achieve Better Results and Why It Matters Now More Than Ever and asked him to share some of his thinking and research with you.

 

“Servant leaders focus their organization externally on the marketplace.” –Jude Rake

 

Learn from Pat Summitt

You personally observed Pat Summitt’s leadership and watched her in action at half-time. You saw her growing other leaders, not demanding followership. It was such a powerful example. Would you share that story?

Several years ago when I was COO at a large consumer products company, we needed a keynote speaker for our annual marketing and sales meeting. Given that our company was a big sponsor of NCAA women’s college basketball, we decided to invite Pat Summitt to be our keynote speaker.

Pat inspired everyone with her energy and her famous “Definite Dozen Leadership Traits for On and Off the Court Success.” After our meeting at dinner, I shared with Pat that I had coached youth basketball for many years. She graciously took interest and invited me to be a guest coach at a Lady Vols game. I was floored! I took her up on her offer and eventually travelled to Knoxville for an unforgettable weekend.

I knew that Pat was an outstanding coach, and I admired her for her accomplishments, but I had no idea just how good she was at cultivating leaders throughout the Tennessee women’s basketball program. From the moment I stepped onto that campus, everything was executed with excellence. I soon learned that I would be shadowing Pat. I discovered firsthand why so many recruits chose the Lady Vols program, and why so many former players and coaches use terms of endearment when recalling Pat Summitt’s influence on their lives.

 

“Confidence is what happens when you’ve done the hard work that entitles you to succeed.” –Pat Summitt

 

Game day was quite a production, from pre-game activities to post-game reception. Anyone who watched Pat from the sidelines might expect her to lead everything with an iron fist. It was quite the opposite. Pat was clearly orchestrating everything . . . but the entire weekend appeared to be executed by everyone but Pat. She had done most of her leading and coaching in practice. The assistant coaches and players stepped up to the plate time and again, as did her administrative support staff. They took turns leading, and they collaboratively leaned on each other’s strengths to elevate performance throughout game day activities.

During the game, we sat immediately behind Pat and the team. At halftime the Lady Vols were trailing. We went into the locker room with the team. Pat was not there. I watched as the players—by themselves—took turns facilitating a brainstorming session about what had worked well and what needed improvement. Then they presented their analysis to the assistant coaches for input and guidance. Clearly, these players and assistant coaches had been trained well. They knew what to do without being micro-managed. Finally, Pat joined the team, and the players and assistant coaches collectively presented their conclusions. Pat succinctly graded their performance and assessments, added her own personal evaluation, and they aligned on an action plan for the second half. Everyone had led at some point. They leaned on each other’s strengths and focused on the biggest opportunities for improvement. They debated vigorously and respectfully. Ownership was achieved. There was no lecture or screaming. Half-time ended with a quintessential Pat Summitt inspirational call to heightened intensity and hustle, and the team went out and kicked their opponents’ behinds!

For me, this was an impressive example of a leader growing leaders and difference-makers, not just demanding followership. Pat Summitt showed us that leaders can be demanding, passionate, and ultra-competitive, yet still focus a significant amount of their time, energy, and empathy on the development of leaders at all levels of their organization. It’s what fueled her unprecedented results at Tennessee, and it’s the most important thing leaders do.

 

“Servant leaders bring out the best in others.” –Jude Rake

 

How to Build a Team

Tap Into The Creative Power of Constructive Conflict

creativity

Disrupt to Innovate

Teamwork. Harmony. Getting along.

If these words come to your mind when you think about brainstorming and innovation, you’ll want to pay close attention.

Because it’s about not getting along, about disruption, about disagreement, and about contrasting perspectives. That’s what makes innovation happen.

In The Innovation Code: The Creative Power of Constructive Conflict, Jeff DeGraff and Staney DeGraff introduce a framework to explain how different kinds of leaders can create constructive conflict in an organization. Staney DeGraff is the CEO of Innovatrium Institute for Innovation. And Jeff DeGraff is known as the Dean of Innovation, a professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and a friend of mine for many years. I recently spoke to Jeff about his latest book.

 

“Disharmony is crucial to innovation.” –Jeff DeGraff

 

Many people think that conflict and in-fighting must be solved before you can innovate, but you teach that it’s a healthy part of the process. Why is discord a good thing?innovation code book cover

Innovation is simply a form of useful novelty. It’s the opposite of standardization. Positive tension is required to generate the energy required to create unique ideas. Apathy is the death of innovation, not conflict. So, to make innovation happen, you need to have divergent worldviews – points of departure. This creates new connections and forces ideas to morph into ever more potent forms. Take a good look at the most creative civilizations throughout history, and you will find they sit at the crossroads where a variety of people, and their ideas, meet both geographically and culturally: Athens, Hangzhou, Vienna, or New York. The same is true for teams and partners: Anthony and Stanton, Lennon and McCartney, or Shaq and Kobe. Every strength brings a weakness, and we need the “other” to push us forward and to overcome our own shortcomings. The key is to keep these conflicts constructive and focused on ideas, not personalities.

 

“Innovation is about constructive conflict-positive tension.” –Jeff DeGraff

 

4 Approaches to Innovation

Design Thinking for the Greater Good

greater good

Innovation in the Social Sector

Design thinking is one way to reframe problems, ideate solutions, and iterate toward better answers. It helps solve wicked problems. Those are the type that are especially insidious and difficult.

In a new book by Jeanne Liedtka, Daisy Azer, and Randy Salzman, Design Thinking for the Greater Good:  Innovation in the Social Sector, the authors take on the challenge of applying design thinking to the social sector. The principles apply to all organizations and may help you reach a breakthrough in your organization. I recently spoke with Randy Salzman about their research. Randy is a journalist and former communications professor. His work has been published in over one hundred magazines, journals, and newspapers, from the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times to Mother JonesBicycling, and Style.

 

“Possibility first, constraints later.” -Randy Salzman

 

Practice Design Thinking

What is design thinking?

Design thinking is a modern version of what was once common, a method of addressing and solving problems outside of normal professional siloes. After about 500 years of ever-greater specialization, society is recognizing that wicked problems lie between the professions, between those siloes, and that most “answers” require a grasp of human behavior and a willingness to deeply understand the entire problem, not just “my” professional aspect of it. Design thinking, often called human-centered design, asks us to explore deeply, empathize continually, ideate rapidly, prototype simply and iterate constantly in order to address the problems that bedevil us. Unlike, for example, LEAN and most analytical methods of addressing problems, design thinking seeks to hold problem-solvers in the question space, rather than rapidly jumping to an answer as most Type A personalities – who corporate leaders tend to be — do. Reframing the question, exploring it deeply—and especially building solid empathy with users and other stakeholders—allows design thinkers to find unarticulated needs and desires and build solutions—tapping into unintentionally hidden aspects of human behavior. In today’s “quantitative” planning world, design thinking seeks to return to “qualitative” understanding of both bigger, and littler, picture issues.

 

It is being used today all over the world in a variety of very different organizations. Would you give us a few examples?

While many know of the success of Intuit, 3M, Proctor and Gamble and other major corporations in producing new products and services via design thinking approaches, less is known about the problem-solving methodology’s work outside of product development, and in social sector and government organizations.  Today, many U.S. government bureaucracies – from Health and Human Services, the VA, even the armed forces – are today seeking to understand the people they serve at a much deeper level than treating people as numbers using a quantitative statistical approach.  Non-profits, hospitals, and educational institutions are also adapting their thinking towards design-thinking’s “possibility first, constraints later” approach to problem solving.  For instance, The Kingwood Trust in the United Kingdom is using design thinking to sense and adapt to the needs of autistic adults who cannot use written or oral language to even express their likes or dislikes, and involving them in the design of their living spaces. The Community Transportation Association of America is using it to build local capacity to solve the work-transport needs of lower income employees. Monash University Hospital in Australia has completed a dozen design thinking projects and are presently engaged in solving the truly “wicked” problem of how medical providers can deliver and be compensated for wellness instead of for providing interventions.  All these stories are in our book, Design Thinking for the Greater Good:  Innovation in the Social Sector. But the stories are too many to fit into any book. We only touched on the New Zealand government’s culture-wide tipping to design thinking. Most governmental ministries in that Pacific nation have a design-thinking shop aimed at exploring deeply and empathizing continually with the stakeholders they serve.

 

“Fail early to succeed sooner.” —Tim Brown

 

How is innovation shifting?

We like to talk in terms of a shift from “Innovation I” to “Innovation II” and liken to this shift to the one that occurred in quality, post WWWII. In the same way that quality was originally the realm of specialists and then gradually (facilitated by TQM) spread to the point where, today, quality is everyone’s job up and down the organization, innovation is increasingly seen as belonging to those outside of research & development and senior executives. For organizations to adapt and thrive in today’s climate of political and economic uncertainty and challenge, we submit that all staffers, all employees, need the training and authority to innovate. It must become a core organizational capability. In this environment of broadened responsibility for finding new ways to create value for stakeholders, design thinking can do for innovation what TQM did for quality – help us to teach, scale and democratize it.

Certainly, possibilities for innovation are accelerating for a variety of technological reasons, from big data to computing capacities. There has been less attention to the human dimension, to the awareness that flawed human beings do not behave like the so-called “rational consumers” the quantitative planning world was based on. As the authors of Nudge put it, man is not “homo economous” but “homo sapiens,” and until thinkers began to understand that most of us act without thinking – rationally or otherwise – very little qualitative understanding of human behavior was considered by “garage” and other technological innovators. Now—in  what some are calling the “Smart Machine Age”—there is an awareness that every idea and every concept needs accompaniment from a social technology which aids in its spread. We think of design thinking as a social technology for change. As more and more business, governments, organizations recognize that a qualitative understanding of their stakeholders is needed, design thinking opens up a new kind of conversation that creates space for innovation to birth and blossom.

 

Embrace the Growth Mindset

Compete and Keep Your Soul

values based leadership
This is a guest post by Jeff Thompson, MD. Jeff is the author ofLead True: Live Your Values, Build Your People, Inspire Your Community and he is CEO Emeritus and Executive Advisor at Gundersen Health System.

 

Compete and Keep Your Soul

The bookstores have volumes and the media is full of examples of people who believe the way to success is to crush the competition—out-strategizing people and pressing your advantage till they are crushed by the wayside. Young leaders are told to step on faces to get ahead or aim for short term goals of size and profit.

But there is another way. There is a clear path to have stunning success and still be able to sleep at night and be proud to tell your grandchildren how the world is a better place because you were in it.

Values-based, not ego-based, leadership focuses on serving the greater good and accomplishing a higher purpose.  It is not complicated. It is just difficult.

 

“Values-based, not ego-based, leadership focuses on serving the greater good and accomplishing a higher purpose.” -Jeff Thompson

 

Let’s take for example the last broad economic downturn.

How are the priorities in your department or company organized to deal with this problem? Who were the first to be affected? The most vulnerable? The last people who were brought in the organization (your future)? The people with the least power and the least influence? Who took the biggest beating? What won the day? The long-term good of the organization or the short-term financial performance report for the board? Shareholders may clamor for short-term wins, but there is no law that says you have to sacrifice the long-term health of the organization or its people to satisfying this immediate clamor. Decision making guided by values takes courage, discipline and durability.

 

“Decision making guided by values takes courage, discipline and durability.” -Jeff Thompson