My friend Otto Siegel (www.geniuscompanies.com) is a nationally known expert on genius and innovative thinking, and author of Yes You Are a Genius Whether You Know It or Not. During a recent catchup session, he asked me: “What is the ONE challenge that you hear from CEO’s over and over again?” My response was: “How to make innovative thinking real. Virtually every leader knows that his/her company must evolve in new areas to succeed in this “new normal” economy. CEOs acknowledge the benefits of innovative thinking on creating a vision and then executing it with new products and services. But then reality sets in regarding how to teach very intelligent but risk-averse leaders and managers to fundamentally change their thinking habits to accelerate execution and results. After all, most companies have a culture of minimizing exposure and mistakes, and a focus on cost control and efficiency. How does a leader maintain a focus on those areas and create an environment with innovative thinking? YOU PROBABLY CAN’T!”
New Normal Requires Innovative Thinking
Often I find that executive teams do not have a member who brings innovative thinking as a natural attribute. Executives are often strong in strategic thinking, control, cost control, efficiency, financial planning and the like, but often are light in innovative skills. MRG, one of the leading providers of 360 degree leadership assessment tools (www.mrg.com) defines innovative as, “Feeling comfortable in fast-changing environments; being willing to take risks and to consider new and untested approaches.”
Promoting Innovation and Creativity
Otto commented to me that, “Innovation and creativity are the competitive edge of each company. Leaders inspire innovation and creativity in their employees by leveraging their talents and strengths. They learn how to ask powerful questions and inspire top performance. They encourage their team to be creative and to go beyond the existing norm. They evaluate and implement new ideas with a common sense approach, while benefiting from open communication and the diversity of each individual team member.”
Finally, in a culture that inspires and promotes innovative thinking (and action!), how leaders deal with failures is critical. Innovative thinking means taking risks that may not turn out with solid ROIs or even sustainability. If a company’s culture is that mistakes are not tolerated, leaders and managers will quickly learn that the rewards from successful innovation may not be significant or frequent enough to outweigh the penalties for failure, thus killing the desired behavior and culture. Great leaders promote “intelligent risk” and celebrate failure.
A recent story about Google recounted a Vice President in discussion with one of the founders. At the end of the conversation, she haltingly changed subjects and admitted that a new initiative she had started would not materialize, and would cost the company several million dollars. Expecting a very strong reaction, she was floored when the founder congratulated her on the failure, because (sic) if they weren’t making those kind of errors they wouldn’t be trying to innovate enough.
How are you teaching and promoting innovative thinking in your company?