People make the mistake of assuming that anybody with strong leadership skills are the best kind to lead innovation in the workplace.
But sustained innovation requires a unique kind of leadership. As Hill, Brandeau, Truelove and Lineback explain in their book Collective Genius, it requires a leader who can unleash and harness the “collective genius” of people in an organisation.
So how do you build innovation into the foundations of your organisational culture? Here are three tips from Collective Genius which will provide a useful starting point in your mission to lead innovation:
1. Explore the values of bold ambition, collaboration, learning and responsibility
According to the authors of the book, throughout their research conducted on multiple innovative organisations, they found four common values:
Bold Ambition – This is all about having the drive to take on complex challenges and stretch yourself to find new and unique solutions. It’s about taking motivation to exciting new levels.
Collaboration – Innovative organisations value collaboration and encourage it. They understand the importance of sharing ideas and supporting one another, as opposed to competing with one another.
Learning – Innovation is built on a desire to continually keep learning and improving. A commitment to learning means having an attitude that always strives to be better.
Responsibility – Being responsible underlies a sense of obligation, duty and loyalty to a project. It helps to set the guidelines and ensures teams are striving for the same high standards.
If you are looking to create an organisation that fuels innovation, it may be a good starting point to reflect on how your organisation currently treats the above values. Critical to innovation, these values and your relationship with them will have a huge impact on your ability to be innovative.
2. Set the rules of engagement
While unleashing innovation requires the need for creativity and thinking outside the box, structure is still important. You need to know what your shared purpose is, how final decisions will be made and what budgets or limitations you are working with.
These rules will help the collaboration process and provide some governing stability. Rules ensure that you don’t waste time arguing about the small details of process when you should be making the most of your time debating the pros and cons of different ideas available to you.
3. Encourage passionate discussion and disagreement
Creative collaboration is essential to innovation – more often than not, those extraordinary ideas that take the world by storm are not the unique ideas born from one sole inventor. They are usually the results of many hours of trial and error, group brainstorming and let’s face it, heated discussion.
As a leader of innovation, you don’t want your team smiling and nodding to every single idea you come up with. You want to share in each other’s perspectives, challenge your ideas from every angle, refine, improve and discover.
In order to achieve this, you need to create a comfortable, trusting, collaborative environment where team members know that it’s okay to speak up, question ideas and try new things.
Remember – a culture of innovation isn’t built overnight
Leading innovation and incorporating this way of thinking into your business will take time. If your organisation has previously preferred not to take too many risks and simply do what you know works, shifting to a more innovative culture can be a bit daunting and even uncomfortable.
But with the right leadership and by ensuring you gradually start incorporating those innovative values, setting some safe boundaries and structure, and encouraging passionate discussion, it’s definitely possible to start leveraging the “collective genius” of your team.
Linda A. Hill is the Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and faculty chair of the Leadership Initiative. Greg Brandeau, the long-time head of technology at Pixar, is a former EVP and CTO for the Walt Disney Studios. Emily Truelove is a researcher and a PhD candidate at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Kent Lineback has spent more than 25 years as a manager, executive and consultant.
You can learn more about the link between innovation and leadership in their book Collective Genius.