How Leaders can set the tone for innovation

Remember last month I told you about a client who told his staff that they needed to start thinking about what they’ve never thought about? Well this past week I went back to check up on them and see exactly what had happened since our last conversation.

Absolutely nothing.

I wasn’t surprised. The predictable ‘I haven’t had time to think about it’ came up. Sure, they definitely have some ideas like focusing on not just businesses but also consumers and creating a brand for that. Though that’s just an idea and they know they have to do it but again nothing has happened.

The President of the company understands that they need to make time to ‘think about what they’ve never thought about’ but hasn’t really made the decision to do so. Well let me tell you something:

For things to change, somebody somewhere has to start acting differently.

And unless there are some fellow Renegades in the company, it’s the business leader who must set the tone.

Innovative organizations require innovative leaders

In the book the Innovator’s DNA, the authors explain why some companies have a higher innovation premium than others. It’s because a leader’s everyday actions are one of the most powerful signals to their team and organization that innovation truly matters:

As the data suggests, top executives who value innovation need to point their fingers not at others but themselves. They must lead the innovation charge by understanding how innovation works, improving their own discovery skills, and sharpening their ability to foster the innovation of others. Moreover, they must actively populate their organizations with enough discovery-driven innovators to make innovation a team game that translates into tangible and sustainable innovation premiums.

If a leader has innovative habits, he will automatically instill those habits throughout the organization.

Building new habits

Because my client needs to build new habits with the intent of  building new capabilities, he asked me what new habits I recommended he start doing and my first words of advice to him were: Don’t talk to the accountant.

That’s right. It’s a little extreme, I know, but instead talk to entrepreneurs who are entering the coffee business instead. Talk to them more than you would your accountant. You want to find out what they’re thinking, what they’re seeing. These are the guys who might put you out of business with something completely unexpected. You want to know what that is.

Talk to your customers, ask them what’s missing. Go to a market and observe how people choose one coffee brand over another. Setup keyword alerts on Twitter so you can track conversations (there are convos happening) that are happening around your business. In aggregate these conversations may hold nuggets of insight to inform your ideas. Also, identifying these conversations can help you see who these people are and you may then plan on how to better reach out to them.

For the readers of this blog, this should be standard practice. But as you know, most business the world over don’t have these habits in place.

The bottom line is remarkable leaders innovate because they know the future will require new ideas! If individuals, teams, and organizations want to think different, they must act different.

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