Do or Die: Innovating for Outcomes

“I’d say we have no choice but to run with the big dogs, or get left behind. As the saying goes in the dog-sledding world of Alaska, if you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes.” Dr Mary Quin, CEO, Callaghan Innovations.

The path to innovation is hard, and it is difficult to get a good idea out there. The gatekeepers are often not innovators themselves and rigidly apply a set of criteria that not only hampers ambition, but also stops a project dead in its tracks. As someone who seeks to introduce innovation to improve performance and outcomes in public sector organisations I am constantly fettered by organisational indifference and general unwillingness to deviate from standard operating norms to reflect on a new opportunity.

Tom Peters said that a new idea either finds a champion or it dies –“No ordinary involvement with a new idea provides the energy required to cope with the indifference that change provokes”. Why do organisations, which say they want innovation, systematically put-up barriers to constrain new ideas from being formulated? Is innovation worth all the effort?

We are all in the big-change business. What’s really hard is fighting against apathy and pulling it off. Change is about facing down resistance, recruiting allies and working up the nerve to try again.

Change happens one person at a time, face to face. Since time immemorial change has fundamentally been about relentless experimentation and getting others to buy into our ideas to provide some sort of a service to people. We’ve always had to keep up but now in an era exemplified by the rapidity of change – it’s do or die.

The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.

“The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function”. Albert Allen Bartlett, Physicist.

The key to driving innovation is enlightened leadership that not only manages the constraints, but also fosters talent to inspire creative thinking, in organisational settings and beyond.

Whilst leaders cite innovation as an important driver of growth, few of them explicitly have the skills to lead and manage it. Leaders that comprehend their own limitations recognise that talent is everything. Sports coaches and theatre directors acknowledge this, so why do many leaders fall-short in understanding this?

If you are in a leadership role you are in the talent development business. We need to be going up the value-chain to prepare people beyond the kinds of tasks and roles that can be automated. Innovation is enhanced by high emotional intelligence and design thinking and for this to happen you need to develop creativity in your workforce. The only option is to grow your people by investing in training.

Creative leaders need an open mindset to build the explicit skills to manage innovation and change. Innovation is intrinsically contradictory, offering significant improvement to your organisation, just as it offers up disruption and change. Creating an innovation culture requires a different approach to leadership, a different way of thinking about yourself, and a different way of being mindful of your own development as a leader and of the people in your team.

A good idea has the potential to change the way people live, relate to each other and launch economic growth. The innovation imperative is upon us – be the lead dog.

Further Reading: Becoming a Leader who Fosters Innovation »

The Innovative Company

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