Leading Innovation is Different

21 Oct

(Originally posted on The Innovation Workgroup’s LinkedIn page, 11th August, 2015)

“Leading innovation is about creating the space where people are willing and able to do the hard work of innovative problem solving.” So says Harvard Business School professor Linda Hill after she studied the most successful leaders of innovation in the business world.

To lead innovation effectively, you may have to change some of your attitudes and behaviors. The desire for managerial certainty must be replaced with the skill of managing uncertainty, the desire for conformity must be replaced with the skill of managing diversity, and the desire for control must be replaced with the skill of developing the independence and initiative of individual employees.

Certainty vs. Uncertainty

Innovation is the polar opposite of certainty because the product of innovation is unknown prior to the innovation effort. You can’t predict where an innovation effort will lead. Moreover, a smart innovation leader will make course corrections during an innovation project to take into account what is being learned and discovered along the way. Managers who are comfortable only with the planning, organization and control techniques taught in business schools may not be able to adjust to the uncertain environment of innovation.

Conformity vs. Diversity

Dr. Hill quotes Bill Coughran, who led operations at Google, as saying, “Hire people who argue with you.” Coughran understands that world-class innovation requires divergent thinking, even, at times, the consideration of ideas that are diametrically opposed to each other. If a manager is one of those know-it-all types who thinks he is the only intelligent life form on the planet, and that his subordinates are ignorant and stupid, he will squelch disagreement and prevent good ideas from surfacing.

Controlling vs. Developing

This is about whose agenda will be followed in the practice of innovation. A world-class innovation team includes capable, intelligent, prolific innovators. Smart innovation leaders will encourage and equip each team member to give his or her best. Managers who want to pursue only their goals using only their methods will never get top production from their innovation teams, and may discourage team members to the point where they take their innovative talents elsewhere.

Want to become a more effective innovation leader? You can start by watching Dr. Linda Hill’s TED talk. Your comments below are most welcome.

Additional reading on this topic: How to manage for collective creativity

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Posted by on October 21, 2015 in Uncategorized


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