What Leaders Should Know About Innovation

By Ron Price

These days you hear and read a lot about innovation. It’s the common buzzword and there are constantly new articles and blogs written about it, but most of it is simply a rehashing of what has been written in the past. There’s very little new thought going into innovation, which is ironic if you think about it. 

This is part of the reason Dr. Evans Baiya and I decided to write The Innovator’s Advantage. We wanted to share with leaders the link between innovation and people that we discovered through our work in innovation with our clients.. 

For effective leadership, innovation is not an option. Successful innovation requires leaders to have equal amounts of dedication to the process and new ways of thinking about people.

Innovate All the Time
Most leaders look at innovation as creating something new.  This is not always the case.  What is universal about innovation is that is about creating new value.  And the “oxygen” of all innovation is ideas.  For organizations to consistently innovate, they must learn how to manage these ideas.  In our work, we have guided clients to manage ideas through three mechanisms: idea factories, idea banks, and idea portfolios.

In order for companies to truly benefit from innovation, it should be proactive. The principles of innovation are similar to those around change management and growth.  When anticipated or triggered as the result of a considered choice, there is a much greater chance of success.  I often think of the metaphor of riding the front of the wave instead of falling behind, then trying to catch up.

In our book, we outline a clear framework and the psychology for what makes innovation really work. There are distinct tasks needed for any successful innovation, and we group those tasks into the Six Stages of Innovation. It all begins with identifying new opportunities and problems that need to be solved.

It Starts with a Problem-Opportunity
There is a specific way to identify and clarify a problem-opportunity statement. It is often difficult to see what the real problem is because we get distracted by the symptoms instead of the core problem.  It takes practice and critical thinking skills to bring clarity to a core problem-opportunity.  This is one of the tools that The Innovator’s Advantage provides. 

The Six Stages & Assessing Your Team
Identifying the problem-opportunity is only the first stage; each stage has a different set of outcomes, tools, methods, and skills that create success. This is why we say that innovation is really six jobs: Identify, Define, Develop, Verify, Deploy and Scale. 

Too often, people only equate innovation with creativity, not realizing that there are many stages for any successful innovation.  Because of these various stages, we need people with a wide variety of talents, skills, motivations and interests assigned where they can make a valuable contribution.  

The emerging science around talent reveals that no one is going to be able to perform at a superior level in all six stages. One of the big ideas in our book is that you can assess your team members to find out where they best fit, where they will enjoy the work, and where their contributions will count most. Not only that, but with training, team members can enhance their abilities in the stages where they are the best fit. 

Not a Quick-fix
Leaders must lead their people into innovation by making a commitment to the time and resources required to learn how to function at an entirely new level. Innovation is not a quick fix; it’s not a weekend retreat that suddenly turns you into an innovative organization. Innovation is a much more rigorous practice, as is anything that is worth achieving. 

Innovation is for Everyone and Everyone Can be an Innovator
We routinely encounter leaders who say, “I can’t afford to innovate because I’m a small company.” But innovation doesn’t have to consume inordinate amounts of time and money, especially once you understand the process and how to engage people in the stages where they are most apt to excel.  

Innovation is a commitment to understanding and implementing a set of disciplines, processes and a deep understanding of how and where each person on your team can contribute. It is something that anybody can execute. All leaders can be champions for innovation in their organizations.

Ron Price is the co-author of The Innovator’s Advantage. To talk with him about innovation at your organization, email ron@price-associates.com