Innovation is a top priority for enterprises around the world. The quickening pace of technological change and mounting pressure of global competition are helping fuel the urgency. But leaders can’t go it alone. Nor will they get the job done using traditional management tools, say innovation gurus Jeff Dyer and Nathan Furr.
“Innovation requires a different kind of leadership, calling for skills and tactics that many of us have yet to master,” they explain in a recent Harvard Business Review article, titled “Leading Your Team into the Unknown.” “Most importantly, innovation leaders must change their role from being the chief decision maker to being the chief experimenter.”
It’s important for a company to have strong leaders at the helm who articulate the core strategy, act as guardians of flagship offerings and remain vigilant in serving valued customers. However, acting as the innovation leader isn’t their job.
“You must be an advocate for the new and different, setting the grand challenge more by deed than by word – by keeping an eye out for the unusual, fearlessly questioning the assumptions on which the core business runs, and demonstrating the willingness to try things that may be far outside the norm,” say Dyer and Furr, co-authors of “The Innovator’s Method” (Harvard Business Review Press, 2014). “Even (or especially) if they don’t work, that will send the message that you are serious about innovation.”
Drawn from more than five years researching the world’s most innovative companies, the expert duo offers four dos (and don’ts) proven to be core to leading the complex and uncertain process of innovation.
- Don’t dictate a vision – assert a grand challenge. Set people down a path and carve out the mental space within which the innovation process can be carried out.
- Don’t make decisions – design experiments. Relinquish power to the team and acknowledge that your ideas, like everyone else’s, are just guesses.
- Don’t just ignite ideas – prepare the organization to accept them. Decrease resistance by mapping the language of innovation to the language of the organization; educate and build expertise.
- Don’t just give people time – provide the resources they need to act quickly. Remove organizational barriers, and offer the right resources– including the right team – and tools, such as easy access to customers.
“When competing on innovation, sustainable advantage comes not from the superiority of any particular invention but from the superior ability of leaders to foster an organization that can learn from mistakes faster, more efficiently and more consistently than competitors do,” say Dyer and Furr.
You might also be interested in reading “Choose the Right Innovation Method at the Right Time,” another recent Harvard Business Review article written by Dyer and Furr. Dyer is a professor of strategy at the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University (BYU). Furr also teaches at BYU, and is a professor of strategy and innovation at INSEAD in Paris.