Protect The Future, Not The Past

protect your ugly baby from the hungry beast ed catmull pixar

Protect your ugly baby from the hungry beast

The only way to create new value is through innovation, but most companies pay lip service to it. That’s a fact. CEO’s say they value creativity from employees, the type that delivers disruptive offerings that result in new business models, but when push comes to shove CEO’s don’t really want new disruptive offerings; they are more worried about maintaining the status quo than in challenging it.

Of course, you already know this. But it’s worth repeating again: Innovation is hard. It takes guts.

Guts in the sense that established organizations have to cannibalize their core business by inventing a new business model. Most never do it. And there isn’t a long list of companies who have been able to achieve this. Still, top consultants will have you believe that methodologies can make innovation systematic like checking off tasks from a checklist; it’s not entirely true.

Process is important, but innovation is as much about attitude and perspective as it is about process.

For example, I can quickly determine the innovation potential of your organization by the way you lead it and how you prioritize creating the future versus maintaining the present; for example: what gets done and what doesn’t.

A common innovation obstacle inside established organizations is the quick death of new projects because they were not given enough time to develop. The reasons can vary from lack of leadership support and resources; usually it’s because the project needs to be achievable and work as soon as possible without betting the whole company.

It’s understandable, but leaders must understand that disruptive ideas must be protected with support and resources to develop further; they’ll die if they don’t.

Protect your ugly babies

Inside established organizations innovation initiatives die before they even begin because the future doesn’t have a seat at the table; innovation dies when short term results are rewarded and creativity is penalized.

CEO’s might see new ideas as unnecessary distractions that interfere with the day to day responsibilities of running the business. These ideas will only get attention if they’re focused on short term impact and results. This is why Ed Catmull, Co-founder and President of Pixar, calls new ideas ugly babies: they’ve not yet matured enough to be left on their own.

So what do you do?

CEO’s who are truly committed to innovation must protect their ugly babies from the pull of the day to day business, understanding that innovation doesn’t happen in a straight line and will take time to develop.

Remember: Innovation is another code word for leadership. Follow through is imperative; there is no innovation without it.

Manage for today and for the future

A well managed business where innovation is a core value doesn’t fail because of a lack of process, rather because of leadership and priorities. A CEO’s most pressing challenging is maintaining the core business while also exploring the future. And CEO’s that drive innovation don’t worship their sacred cash cows, rather they find the revolution before it finds them by managing for today and for the future.

Our job as leaders is to protect new ideas from those who don’t understand that in order for greatness to emerge, there must be phases of not-so-greatness. Protect the future, not the past.