Published February 2014. RDI-Connect.com
Innovation is one of the hottest topics in the business blogosphere. In today’s marketplace, the gestation period for new ideas is measured in months as opposed to years. Of course, closely related to the topic of innovation is corporate leadership or, more specifically, the role leaders play in inspiring innovation.
Research indicates that there is a 67% correlation between creativity in an organization and the behaviors of that organization’s leader. In other words, if the company is at the front end of the innovation curve, there is a 67% chance that it’s the leaders doing. On the flip side, if the company fails to innovate on a regular basis, there is a 67% chance that the buck stops (or never really started) with the leader.
QUALITIES OF INNOVATION-DRIVEN LEADERS
According to Wikipedia, innovation leadership “involves synthesizing different leadership styles in organizations to influence employees to produce creative ideas, products, services and solutions.”
But what are specific qualities or values that are linked to leaders who inspire innovation? In a post entitled “The Innovative Brain,” the New and Improved blog suggests several important qualities:
- Integrity: Leaders need to create a culture of trust to inspire creativity within an organization. People need to feel comfortable that their leaders are going to have their back and support ideas, even when those ideas are not winners. Leaders with integrity can always be counted on to do what they say they’ll do. This follow through is critical in building and maintaining an innovative culture.
- Tenacity: Innovative leaders are steadfast in their belief in ideas and will go to great lengths to be proven wrong. They don’t give up easily and have a strong sense of mission.
- Curiosity: Innovative leaders have a unique hunger to learn and explore. They read more, take classes and push themselves beyond their limit in the quest to discover new ways to do things.
- Courage: Innovative leaders are not afraid to challenge the status quo and ask questions. Contrary to belief, great leaders are not necessarily fearless. They understand that courage is not a lack of fear, but the ability to move forward in the face of fear.
LESSONS FROM SILICON VALLEY
It would be difficult to debate the suggestion that Silicon Valley is the global epicenter of innovation. Steve Jobs garage was in the heart of the valley. Facebook. Google. The list is almost endless. But why there? What makes that relatively tiny piece of geography so vital to the global economy? Perhaps, more importantly, what can corporate leaders learn by observing both Silicon Valley veterans and upstarts?
Writing in Fast Company, Soren Kaplan suggests 7 secrets that drive the innovative culture of the Valley:
- Seek scalability: Jobs didn’t want to simply make a great looking computer. He wanted his technology to empower human beings around the globe. In Silicon Valley, the goal is scalable opportunities, not just profitable businesses.
- The power of talent: Silicon Valley companies are at the leading edge in recruiting top talent. They understand how to look beyond the resume in order to find people that fit the culture.
- Collaboration: The traditional business model is to create products or services to sell to a target audience (supposedly) in need of those products or services. Silicon Valley companies are evolving a model by which they co-create products and services with potential customers.
- Strive to be unusual: Silicon Valley companies are always looking for ways to inspire and motivate their employees. Whether it’s surprise vacations or constantly re-arranging the office to force new connections, the focus is on keeping the culture fresh and stimulating.
- Cross-fertilization: It is highly unlikely you will see non-compete arrangements in Silicon Valley. It is not unusual for competitors to collaborate on projects. Networking is an art-form. The focus is always on the idea and companies in the valley understand that innovation cannot thrive in restrictive cultures.
- Risk-taking: Most business cultures are risk-adverse. The Silicon Valley culture encourages risk to fuel individual growth. Or, as one of the many inspirational posters at Facebook says: “Move fast and break things.”
- Disruption: Businesses often aspire to disruption. But business disruption is almost inherent in the culture of Silicon Valley. Companies such as Netflix were founded on a platform of market disruption.
A study by Booz & Company found that only 20% of companies included innovation as part of their overall business strategy. The same study projected that number to be 90% for Silicon Valley companies. Corporate leadership must learn to adapt to the culture of rapid innovation in today’s marketplace. Have you adapted?