Dan Buchner, Director, Innovation Incubator, Center for Creative Leadership examines how organizations can best create innovation leadership.
Dan Buchner, Director, Innovation Incubator, Center for Creative Leadership
Buchner is an award-winning designer, entrepreneur and innovation consultant. He has driven innovation in a wide range of organizations worldwide. For nearly 30 years, Buchner has been developing innovative products, creating compelling new services and helping organizations establish design and innovation capabilities to drive their success.
These days, innovation seems to be viewed as something of a magic bullet by panicked companies desperate for ways to respond to crisis and change. Often the immediate response is to recruit an “innovator”. But our research at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL®) shows that an individual superstar, or even two or three, cannot make that much difference to a struggling organization.
Don’t get me wrong – we believe in the power of innovation. But it doesn’t need to reside in a few Merlins who magically produce innovative products or processes. Our research and practice across hundreds of companies and thousands of individuals around the world tell us that innovation is best fostered in an organizational setting with a nurturing culture. That culture draws upon the creativity of individuals throughout the organization, and can best be created through what we call Innovation Leadership.
Our world is turbulent in almost every aspect. Innovation leadership relishes ambiguity and asks “what if?” rather than looking for quick, black and white answers.
Dr. Goran Ekvall’s pioneering work in Sweden 20 years ago began validated innovation as a determinant for business success. He showed that the health of an organization’s creative climate (and its ability to innovate) can be directly attributed to leadership behaviour.
Here are the actions that we believe are key to Innovation Leadership:
Remove barriers - don’t allow existing processes to crush new ideas. Sometimes people are barriers – neutralize those who are negative and vocal. Provide your organization with the right tools and resources.
Encourage active collaboration - encourage interactions, have fun and provide space for this. Consider a wild card – something unexpected – to get people talking and sharing perceptions.
Challenge mental frameworks - question your underlying assumptions. Above all, get out into the real world and observe.
Impose constraints – but don’t constrain the approach. Determine a time frame for your innovation process, and set some big, even outrageous, goals.
Individual leaders should support innovation by participating in the creative process themselves. Nurturing and promoting creative people is important – but don’t turn them into demigods. Be accepting of failure – even celebrate it – as a way to learn.
And, make the climate for innovation visible to everyone throughout the organization.
Want to lead innovation? Questions to ask yourself:
• What is encouraging/helping to promote and foster creativity – yours and others?
• What is impeding, creating barriers, or discouraging creativity – yours and others?
• What would you recommend changing or enhancing so as to help encourage, promote and foster creativity – yours and others?
• What do you do when someone comes to you with a good idea?
We are also taking our own medicine to increase our innovation quotient, setting up the “Innovation Incubator”.
A key Innovation Incubator principle is to “think like entrepreneurs”. This means passion is key, everything is on the table, and anything is possible. Like start-up businesses, we think big but start small.
Another principle is “open innovation” – don’t just look internally for ideas, possibilities, creative direction but go outside the organization. Remember to give credit, though, for others’ ideas.
Finally, we believe it is key to build an institutional business case, allowing for resource planning and deliverables with costs attached.
See CCL's Innovation Leadership Research
CCL's organizational survey KEYS assesses the climate for creativity and innovation in teams, groups and divisions.