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Innovation Leadership

The nature of business, industry and the economy was once a static structure. Success was sure to follow provided one adhered to the rules; provided those systems in place remained regulated. Planning for the short-term was a matter of maintaining the status quo; for the long-term, a slow development over a matter of years. This is no longer the case.

Now, whole industries change in a matter of months and new technologies create paradigm shifts in the way output is managed. Flexibility and versatility are more important than ever as the uncertainty wrought by change becomes the order of the day.

To meet this change head on—to survive in the world of business today—the strategies of old must be cast aside. As trials become more complex, the staid methods of rationalisation and general analysis fail to deliver. The more unpredictable the climate, the greater creativity required to negotiate it: innovation is required, and the use of innovation in effecting sound leadership.

The difference between a master and a leader lies in engagement, involvement, and example. A leader is not the carriage itself, rather the axle around which the spokes turn. In effecting innovation, leaders must create environments in which creativity is fostered. Leaders must foster a culture of curiosity, imagination, and scepticism in which they themselves take part, rather than outsourcing creativity or leaving it to a select few individuals.

Today, challenges presented are rarely straightforward or blunt. They are ambiguous, complex, or multifaceted: they cannot be dealt with via blunt force. In such a delicate state, tried and tested methods are unreliable. Past experience cannot be drawn upon if the problem faced is new, unforeseen and, of course, never experienced before.

In this case, being innovative requires a different approach. Rather than attacking the problem head on, imagine what outcome is favourable; what end goal is desired, and work towards how that might be attained. Innovative leadership is determined by looking forwards to a creative solution, not backwards to a protocol or precedent.

Innovation leadership requires long-view observation. Approaching a situation from as many perspectives as possible is one of the best ways to negotiate change. That which initially seemed the obvious choice may appear irresponsible or utterly irrational upon varied inspection. In this way, it is vital that one challenges convention and ignores assumption. Traditional methods and ideas must be continuously tested: those worth maintaining will hold up and speak for themselves; those found wanting will fail.

A good leader must also take hold of personalisation. Undervaluing the experience of the individual is detrimental to fostering creativity and encouraging teamwork. That which is truly creative rarely derives from a system of rules. A significant degree of freedom is required to create, rather than merely to replicate. Furthermore, granting workers autonomy makes them feel more valued, and motivates them to enhance their own form of expression—creativity operates best under minimal restrictions. Individuals have individual sets of skills, and it falls to their leader to identify these skills and delegate accordingly. Different people view things in different ways: sometimes, a different conclusion, regardless of how unorthodox or idiosyncratic, may be the right one.

Innovation leadership encourages a breaking away from traditional routines. Rigidity is anathema to flexibility, and flexibility breeds innovation. Trying to cultivate a less demanding, more relaxed environment generates versatile results, and tends to a culture of movement, freedom, and progression. It also encourages collaboration, and allows people to work more comfortably as part of a team.

Collaboration is of the utmost importance: A well-discussed, well-organised group initiative is greater than the sum of its parts. Innovations are rarely the work of single individuals; rather, they are the work of single entities. Allow everyone a voice, and a place within a consistent, equitable discourse. While being bound to a consensus can yield sub-optimal results, drawing from a pool of collaborative thought makes for quite the opposite. Encouraging curiosity, scepticism, and critical thinking will invariably lead to a broader, more holistic result.

Ultimately, innovation leadership is about direction: any changes must come directly from the top. Becoming involved in projects and involved in new ideas leads by example. It is the leader’s job to reward new ideas, remove organisational roadblocks, and reduce criticism. They must strive to eliminate a fear of failure, a fear of risk, and any aversion to change. An innovative working community is one the leaders of which have actively and decisively steered in that direction.

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