Bob Lieberman's Blog

Commentary and Tools For Empowering Change

Innovative Leadership In The Wild

I've just finished reading another good article about an innovator's need to open the mind. And as usual, the illustrations come from new product development and business strategy. Articles like these always make me wonder: Doesn't the other 95% of the business need to innovate, too?

Just because innovation is not in someone's job description, that doesn't mean it isn't important to their work. The fact is that most companies spend a surprising amount of effort actually resisting innovation in so-called non-creative functions like operations, finance, customer service, and sales. Those administration and production areas are usually treated as if they were nothing more than machines – designed once (presumably well), and occasionally needing fuel and a little oil.

But as we all know, the real world doesn't work that way. And in response to real change and challenges, the administrative and production areas of most companies have been prepared only to react. Their reactivity drags down whatever innovations do arise, and it's really too bad. One of the most frustrating experiences you can have in business is seeing a great product or strategy die a slow death due simply to operational resistance and unimaginative execution.

More than one marketing powerhouse that I'm acquainted with has internal systems and procedures that would amaze you with their ineptness, diseconomy, and resistance to truly fundamental improvement. If you happen to be a leader responsible for systems or procedures like those, you can make a positive contribution by using the same techniques for innovation that all those product designers and business strategists use.

Go ahead and read the article (link below), and you'll learn about these four techniques:
  • Immerse yourself
  • Overcome orthodoxies
  • Use analogies
  • Create constraints
In reading, you'll need to use some imagination to see how these techniques might work for you, out in the wild and away from the "creative" areas of your business. But even if you're put off by that challenge, I suggest you just try it. The reward is significant and long-lasting, and applies to all parts of a business – probably including yours. And the techniques themselves can be great fun. If you do try (or you have already), I'd be interested in hearing about how they work for you.

McKinsey Quarterly (free subscription)

This post also appears at LeaderLab