Leadership, not process, is the keystone of innovation

To think differently, act differently. For most, easier said than done. I’ve stressed this over and over again. And will keep on stressing it because I know we’ll never get over it. Simply put, there are those that seek new thoughts before taking action. And, there are those that will only take action until those new thoughts are sketched out in a methodology. Usually, by someone else.

So, everyone seeks new thoughts about innovation thinking. It has gotten to the point where people will put a new “name” on old and known concepts to make it look new. The literature around strategy and innovation is vast, and if we’re seeking breakthroughs, one thing will always be clear: to be strategic is to be unconventional.

Again, that means not just thinking differently, but also acting differently.

Last week I wrote about how there is a lot of focus on innovation methodologies, but not so much on the leadership part. Let me put it clear: no amount of the latest methodologies will save you.

This is because methodologies spread easily. Once something becomes a best practice, everyone else jumps in.

Mindset precedes methodology

The sad thing is that when a company is considering hiring service providers that provide innovation capability their criteria is based on specialization on a specific methodology. Instead, they should be hiring providers who have the mindset of an innovator. Or even better, develop the mindset themselves.

Wishful thinking, I know.

Although I think methodologies like design thinking are great because it is about putting the customer at the center of what you do, a methodology doesn’t equal mindset. The d. school has this mindset, but most companies don’t. You can teach skills, but not attitude and character. That is why the pursuit of innovation is more about leadership than anything else. Leadership, not process, is the keystone of innovation.

The point is that no single strategy or methodology will tell you what to do. But leadership, will help you push through. Put simply: where there’s leadership, there’s innovation.

Scale leadership, not process

The “how” of innovation is what gets the most attention. But the real hard part, is just “getting started”. That is what leadership is about. No map? No problem. Let’s make one. It is no secret that the most innovative companies in the world don’t really have “a process” to talk about. What they do have, is a distinct culture.

Just like Jack Dorsey talks about technology disappearing, and so it is with methodologies. They shouldn’t matter. What people touch and feel is your intent. Anybody can sell a methodology, but not everyone can sell an emotion.

How do you scale leadership? First, you must understand that culture precedes process. A culture of learning isn’t built unless people are learners and are encouraged to constantly learn more. To create a culture for innovation, leaders must focus on outcomes, develop trust, challenge status-quo & be inspiring.

Activities like these are not on a manager’s typical to-do list. But, this comes back to one simple principle: do what others are unwilling to do. Because, for things to change, somebody somewhere has to start acting differently.

Bottom line: Act differently to think differently. Culture is built through action and conversation. We can’t think our way to a new behavior because we can’t trust our own thinking. Go, do.

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