Innovation Isn’t Crazy

by Oct 17, 2019Business Growth

Innovation is a great catalyst, sought by every business leader worth their salt.

Big, new ideas, even if they sound crazy, can energize people. The exhilaration that comes from thinking and talking about new ideas can be great fun. Sometimes, out of a pile of ideas, one that is truly valuable will emerge.

The ratio of big, impractical ideas to big, valuable ideas is daunting. An optimistic ration would be 100:1. One hundred ideas that can’t be put into practice with current knowledge and technology, to one that is both ground-breaking and imminently useful. Focusing on the low probability of success can douse the flames of enthusiasm, killing off innovative ideas far too early.

How do leaders make decisions that fuel innovation without driving the train off the tracks?

Good leaders do two things that aren’t easy to integrate, which is precisely why it is rare.

First, they employ strategic thinking, which is cognitive, emotional, and contextual. Note: No strategic planning methodology can take the place of this process which relies on an integrated approach, less like a microscope (or multiple microscopes) than a kaleidoscope.

Second, they keep curiosity and enthusiasm alive.

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Here are a few questions to ask yourself, and your team to see how you are doing on these dimensions: 

  • Is the difference between strategy and tactics, clear?
    • Is strategy described as “what” and tactics “how”?
  • Is context defined broadly?
    • Strategy asks questions about the unthinkable. What if? How likely?
  • Do we see patterns, make logical connections, resolve contradictions, and anticipate consequences?
  • How well do we handle the unexpected?
    • Do we too quickly abandon course?
    • Do we “hang tough” to our detriment?
  • Do we look for causes when we fail, or blame?
  • Do we eagerly learn from mistakes?
  • How well do we prioritize seemingly conflicting goals?
    • Do we zero in on the critical few and put aside the trivial many when allocat­ing time and resources?
  • When facing a complicated or unfamiliar prob­lem, do we get to the core of the issue and immediately begin to formulate possible solutions?
  • How often are our discussions future-oriented?
  • Do we value thinking and exploration enough to give it room to breathe?
  • Do we dive into problem-solving mode out of habit, or decision?
  • Do we value and prioritize continuous learning?
  • How do unexpected and unpleasant changes affect our performance?

Asking yourself these questions is useful; asking your team is more so. If you honestly want to know, you’ll benefit from hearing from others. That takes courage.