The one thing any non-innovative leader can do to enable innovation

Teams working on ideas

multidisciplinary teams working on ideas

So, you’re the CEO of a company and you are not known to be innovative. What do you do?

No fear, for you are not alone.

For all the talk about the need for innovation, the truth is most CEO’s are not innovative. They are much more focused on maintaining the current narrative than on discovery. But, there is one thing they can do to walk the talk:

Get out of the way.

Even though there is a lot of literature about how to innovate, many leaders have not understood and implemented a key insight about how to create the conditions for innovation to happen. And so it is here, where they can have an immediate influence!

How to start?

A core creative principle of mine is “steal, don’t imitate“. But, there are some things that should be imitated because they are core to creating innovation. Following my recent commentary on innovation inertia, there are two core long-standing principles for innovation that any company, city, institution and group should be thinking about: space and diversity.

Space refers to where you do your work, as well as how that space is organized. And, diversity refers to the way your work in a team. If your team, or the people you collaborate with, is diverse, you are much more likely to arrive at non-linear/creative ideas.

Put simply, what you aim to do is create a Renaissance Team.

One place where this happens, is at Google’s Garage:

The above video shows multi-department Googler’s working side-by-side in what amounts to a workshop environment. This is key, because proximity is what gets people to talk to each other, and diversity is what creates the opportunity for cross-pollination of ideas.

At Google, of course, innovation is expected. So the video above should not come as a surprise. But, like I said above, imitate the core principles that enable innovation anywhere, not the specific tactics. Also, remember: No matter how many processes you set-up or programs that you run in your organization to foster innovation, you can truly support innovation only if the entire organization culture supports innovation.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the CEO must be an innovator (although that would help), it means that he/she at least has to walk the talk as to how to make it happen.

Because there are two innovation killers to look out for, group and expert think, a heterogeneous team is the key weapon to defeat them. If you are a CEO, business owner or leader of a group, your key responsibility is to create the conditions for innovation to take place. This means blocking those innovation killers by creating a space where collaboration between multidisciplinary teams can take place.

This is how any non-innovative leader can enable innovation.

Bottom line: If you don’t have the creative chops, but identify people in your organization who do, and if you don’t want to be an innovation blocker, get out of the way.

P.S. If you are interested in accelerating innovation in your organization, ping me. I work with a multidisciplinary team as part of my consulting work 🙂

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