No matter how much effort we put into codifying it, innovation is really hard because it’s all about combating human nature; both inside and outside the business.
Externally, people have to adopt an idea for it to become an innovation; this is the hardest part. Internally, there are common innovation challenges all organizations face so you have to create the conditions and mechanisms necessary to keep complacency at bay; and the same tactics don’t necessarily apply to everyone.
You have to do all of this while also leading and managing your core business.
I’m sure you’ve heard the mantra “innovate or die”, but what does it mean? It means accepting that your business will stagnate and die if you continue on the same trayectory without making any changes, it also means that you have to reinvent yourself in order to avoid death. While this may seem complex, in my consulting engagements I’ve identified a couple critical measures of innovation in any organization: You can determine whether or not a business has innovation potential by the way it leads and its priorities.
Bold and Visionary Leadership
"If you invent frequently & are willing to fail, then you never get to that point where you really need to bet the whole company” @JeffBezos pic.twitter.com/MrrKiCozZr
— Alex Osterwalder (@AlexOsterwalder) March 31, 2017
The first one, how you lead, has to do with being bold and creating the conditions for creativity to thrive. It’s very simple: do you actively challenge the status quo? Are employees encouraged to challenge it? Are employees authentically excited to come to work everyday and give their best? Do you reward experimentation? Do you hire misfits? Do you bring ideas from the outside?
It’s all about deliberately getting unconfortable.
Managing for today and the future
The second condition, your priorities, has to do with putting boldness into action. Consider that one reason most companies fail is because they miss the future. So in order to not miss it you have to prioritize it, right?
Here’s one example: make a list of the biggest and boldest projects in your company. How many make you uncomfortable?
If none of them hit you in the gut and make you gasp for air, then you have a serious issue on your hands. Every innovative organizations has a mix of “core” projects and “new” projects aimed at strengthening the core while exploring the future; the ones that explore the future should be disruptive in nature.
Most organizations, of course, lead and manage for the here and now; not the future.
"I can tell how much you prioritize innovation just by looking at your agenda.” @rgmcgrath #InternationalWomensDay pic.twitter.com/wN8QBYSiK7
— Alex Osterwalder (@AlexOsterwalder) March 8, 2017
That’s it. So to summarize, you can determine the innovation potential of your organization by the way you lead it and it’s priorities.
Bottom line: Innovative organizations understand they have to disrupt themselves in order to avoid stagnation and death. Being uncomfortable is a good sign that you are on the right track.