This is a guest post form Soren Kaplan. Soren is the Managing Principal of InnovationPoint, an Adjunct Professor within the Imagineering Academy at NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences in The Netherlands and the author of the new book Leapfrogging: Harness the Power of Surprise for Business Breakthroughs.
One simple question lies at the heart of a continuous struggle that most leaders and organizations face: how do we succeed today while simultaneously creating the future?
Some leaders consciously acknowledge this fundamental paradox. Others experience the inherent tension but let short-term goals and fire-fighting consume their lives – at the expense of preparing for and positioning themselves for the future. We all know the companies and brands that failed to find this delicate balance: Kodak, Blockbuster, Borders, and the list could go on and on.
This one little question lies at the intersection of two big fields – leadership and innovation. Whereas innovation used to be all about research & development, technology, and product or service innovation, what’s required for innovation today goes far beyond the traditional nuts and bolts. Innovation today is as much about how you deliver value as it is about what it is you offer to the market. Today’s innovators know that services, business models, collaboration, relationships, networks, knowledge, and social capital are the keys to the future.
The other domain is leadership. Leadership used to be all about purpose, vision, mission, motivation and communication. While these things are still important, the domain of leadership is being reinvented by the same mechanisms responsible for transforming the field of innovation. Leading is as much about fostering networks, tapping into global resources and knowledge, following others, and creating the conditions that foster innovation.
I’ve heard many leaders lament that they just don’t have the time or resources to focus on the future. They’re say that since they’re not “measured” on long-term innovation they must live and die by quarterly results. And besides, they say, there are too many operational challenges requiring attention so they don’t have the “luxury” to think long-term. Some leaders, on the other hand, work through the paradox of leading for innovation by ensuring they don’t sacrifice the long-term for short-term gains. The easy example is Steve Jobs, who mastered the ability to create products and services that people want now, while simultaneously innovating new products, services and business models focused on shaping the future.
The convergence of leadership and innovation is about realizing that the secret sauce that gives life to breakthrough leadership is innovation – and for breakthrough innovation it’s leadership. So what can leaders do right now to tap into the power of this convergence?
- Carve out time for the future – Even if it’s just a few hours per month, dedicate time to putting down the fire hose and help yourself and others step back to see the big picture
- Look everywhere for opportunities to leapfrog – Because innovation is about creating new value, look for ways to reinvent anything and everything, from products to processes to the organization’s physical environment to the rewards and metrics that motivate behavior
- Provide an innovation vision – Create a vision for innovation. Describe the type innovations (from small tweaks to big breakthroughs) that will make a difference for your organization, your customers, your clients, your community, and the world.
- Role model innovation leadership – successful innovation requires risk-taking, acceptance of failure, and openness to revisiting and modifying fundamental assumptions. Role model these things every day. Find others who do these naturally and use them as inspiration for others.
- Open up to surprise – innovation leadership is about living with uncertainty and using ambiguity as a tool to find clarity and direction. Exploring new areas outside of our comfort zone delivers surprising insights that can lead to new opportunities. Being ready to respond to both positive and negative unforeseen events makes us more adaptive as we drive forward our innovations.
Innovation is a continuous process of invention and reinvention. The most effective innovators embrace the journey as part of the destination while helping others recognize that they play a role in delivering value today while concurrently creating the future.