By Jon A. Fredrickson, VP, Chief Innovation Officer
In a hyper-accelerating world where the demand for new products, novel or differentiated services and solutions demand more creativity, the need for innovation is greater than any time in history. Is leadership at all levels, and the organization itself ready to change, morph, adapt or, at least, look in the mirror? What must leadership do differently than what they did the last 100 years or the last 100 days/hours? Do you wake up each morning and realize your competitors have worked all night to innovate beyond where you are? How can you as a leader meet the needs of consumers, customers and your most critical asset: your employees and gig-workers?
The best concepts are rarely the product of a single mind. They arise from being shared, debated, refined and improved upon. That requires collaboration around well-defined problems or needs. Unfortunately, turf battles or institutional silos in the workplace can often suppress the will to discuss problems and pool diverse resources to work together towards a common solution. Leaders wanting to encourage innovative approaches and creativity will destroy silos to build a corporate culture. Leaders will allow the time, space and give support for diverse collaborations and new ideas. They will also see that all who contribute share in the rewards and recognition for those who foster the success of others that supports the good of the customer and the company.
Expect Communication from Everyone
Collaboration cannot happen without communication and an open exchange of needs or ideas. To decrease the odds that big problem or a brilliant idea will go unshared, the best leaders establish an environment where everyone is expected to share problems, ideas, offer constructive feedback and engage in brainstorming. They realize that bringing together employees from various fields and backgrounds who have different viewpoints can introduce new perspectives and ideas into the equation, sparking creativity by spurring their team members to move beyond their own preconceptions and think outside the box or their silo.
Build Unstructured Time into Scheduled Time
While a fantastic idea may arrive in a split-second burst of inspiration, nurturing that concept and growing into something worth bringing to the table to address a problem takes time. Sadly, employees who are strictly scheduled and expected to spend every minute reaching set goals don't have time to spend on these intriguing wisps of ideas, much less collaborate with colleagues. That's why leaders interested in fueling creativity and innovation in their organizations build unstructured time into the schedule, providing their workers with opportunities to explore their passions and the intellectual challenges that spark their curiosity.
Embrace Rapid and Repeated Testing (formerly known as Failure)
How and what does the word failure mean to you? People who fear failure and its consequences are less likely to take the risk of trying something new or unfamiliar. Since innovative thinking requires employees to take a chance on a novel idea or untested approach, great leaders who understand the value of creative thinking and the lessons that can be learned from failures give their employees room to experiment without negative consequences.
More enlightened leaders are choosing to reward risk-taking by recognizing successful AND unsuccessful experiments. They use incentives to those who brave new paths experimenting. They recognize that even unproductive experiments could potentially lead to a “proper funeral” for a program or problem that is unsolvable, which can then be celebrated in the company.
Innovation and creativity cannot be forced, but they can be fueled. Business leaders that actively work to shape a workplace culture, expand their leadership style to encourage and support collaboration, communicate, exploration and a willingness to take calculated risks provide an environment where novel ideas, innovative approaches and creative solutions can flourish. These are the emerging leaders of today and examples for what innovation leadership must be to empower and inspire everyone in the company to become an innovator!