In a lot of ways, innovation is a mystery. It does not happen spontaneously, but it occurs in an instant. Innovation is not the work of a lone genius, but it requires independent hard work. It is not easy, but it is rewarding.
Because it is so hard to characterize, innovation is also hard to define. Is innovation just something new? Or is innovation only a new use for something old? Does innovation make life easier for some and bring profit to others? Can innovation happen on the micro-scale as well as in the macro-environment?
The answer is “Yes” – yes, to all these questions and more. Innovation is the art and science of creating a new product, service, or technology that brings value to both customer and provider. Innovation is leading greatness.
Leadership and Innovation
While companies often struggle with repeatable innovation success, I argue that success with innovation is bound by leadership. True leaders recognize and nurture the growth of innovation in their teams. Innovation leadership is more than funding R&D or designing a clever marketing program. Leadership in innovation requires an in-depth understanding of the organization’s culture, your customers, and even of yourself. There are four levels to building innovation leadership: learning, adopting, transforming, and sustaining.
A learning organization is one that recognizes the importance of long-term, sustained innovation. Yet, they don’t know how to get there. These organizations inherently appreciate that standing still and hoping for our “old normal” isn’t going to happen. But they don’t know what to change to take advantage of the next phase of economic growth.
Learning organizations focus on strategic development, opportunity identification, and market insights. Strategy integrates vision, mission, and values of the organization. Where do you want to go, how will you get there, and what are your common beliefs? Market insights mean you have an in-depth understanding of customers, trends, markets, and competition in your industry.
Once you understand the market space and your unique approach to customer needs, then you – as an innovation leader – make decisions about projects and pathways to achieve goals. We all have more ideas than time, resources, and money. Adopting innovation leaders apply tools, like new product development (NPD) processes, to frame decisions for generating value. Great leaders are willing to accept calculated risk. Winning the war is more important than 100% success in every small battle. Failure in innovation is treated as learning and not as a time to blame or punish. (Note that NPD processes cover a wide range of frameworks and approaches. Read more in The Innovation ANSWER Book, Chapter 3.)
Many organizations stop once they have systems and processes in place to manage product innovation projects. That’s okay but it’s not leadership. Innovation leaders seek to transform the organization to drive higher level creativity and more satisfaction with customers. Again, this is a decision-making process, but instead of focusing on each step in executing a project, transformative leaders aim to drive change in the culture and behaviors of team members. Open cultures that tolerate constrained risk and defined exploration tend to be more innovative. Train your teams in creative processes (like design thinking) and allow them freedom and autonomy to discover new and interesting relationships among customer needs, technologies, and market trends. (Join our virtual Design Thinking workshop here.)
One success is good. Two or three successes is great. Repeatable innovation success is terrific! The way to achieve fantastic results in satisfying customers with continued innovation is by sustaining learning and growth. Innovation leaders and teams need ongoing support and challenge for continued success.
Because product innovation is often an isolated role within companies, many innovation leaders use a master mind or other peer support group to challenge their growth and curiosity. Master mind groups allow innovation leaders to share with like-minded peers to speed learning for implementation success. Trust among members allow you to go beyond your own constraints and boundaries as you both give and receive help.
Innovation Leaders are Different
Operational managers and functional department heads are judged on hitting easily measurable targets, such as cost of production or number of widgets manufactured. Success of innovation leaders is not as clear cut and success is defined by strategic objectives and customer satisfaction. Thus, the goal posts are constantly moving.
However, innovation leaders can build success for themselves, their teams, and their organizations by creating a framework for long-term change. Innovation cultures learn from the opportunities presented to them, adopt industry best practices, and transform their organizations with defined decisions. Truly successful innovation leaders continue the journey by sustaining growth and learning to establish cultures and relationships that support creativity and freedom.
What is Your Level of Innovation Maturity?
Take the Innovation Health Assessment™ to identify your organization’s innovation maturity level. (Free registration here to maintain integrity of the database.) If you are a learning organization, what is your strategy? If you are an adopting organization, what are your decision-making processes? If you are a transforming organization, how can you further build teamwork and creative collaboration? If you are a sustaining organization, how do you give your innovation leader support?
One way to gain cross organization knowledge of product innovation is through the New Product Development Professional (NPDP) certification. Register here for our next course in January 2021.
I am inspired by writing, teaching, and coaching. I tackle life with an infusion of rigor, zeal, and faith. It brings me joy to help you build innovation leaders. Teresa Jurgens-Kowal is an experienced innovation professional with a passion for lifelong learning with a PhD in Chemical Engineering and an MBA in Computer and Information Decision Making. My credentials include PE (State of Louisiana), NPDP, PMP®, and CPEM, and I am a DiSC® certified facilitator. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or area code 281 + phone 787-3979 for more information on coaching for entrepreneurs and innovators.
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