The following was published 6 December 2020 in Real Leaders, the preferred partner publication of YPO.
Creativity and innovation in any organization is vital for success. A leader’s job is not to be the sole source of ideas, but to encourage and champion the ideas of others.
Studies have found that innovation, leadership and influence are related. The following thoughts on creativity in business offer executives a playbook for increased innovation.
Innovation involves implementing something new that adds value or quantifiable gain. It requires many skill sets, usually those of a team. Not everything new is automatically considered an innovation. It’s also an opportunity to clarify the participants’ commitment and examine where they are now in terms of leadership development and where they aspire to be by the end of a innovation intervention program. Progressive leadership can create a climate that encourages creativity and innovation. The most important criteria for an idea to pass should be:
When you are personally working on innovation, you can still try things out and make mistakes. You are sometimes permitted to invest in innovation and fail if an idea turns out to be a non-starter. With a project, this becomes less attractive as every dollar counts.
Scholars have shown how organizational structure, strategy, technology, culture, and other management tools help organizations bring effectiveness and competitive advantage. They also show that in the 21st-century corporate environment, creativity and innovation are the primary sources of competitive advantage. However, these authors say little about the role of leadership in the innovative process.
Creative and effective organizations do not appear by accident. They require leaders to drive and control deliberate change within structures, cultures and processes to transform them into creative, effective and productive ones. Many organizations already look for competitive advantages within each of these areas, yet leadership can become your most important advantage. Leaders usually decide what happens in an organization, and give the necessary direction, vision and momentum to bring about success. Leaders, therefore, are the catalysts that create and manage environments of innovation.
Collaboration and networking
Collaboration allows an organization to use the collective wisdom of individuals and groups to accomplish a task or project. Collaborative knowledge-sharing lets people in an organization access targetted knowledge from a broader range of resources and collaborative performance is based on how effectively this knowledge can be shared among all employees, how effectively the resulting knowledge can be organized, and how it can help with decision-making.
It’s worth noting that innovative leaders are people who have expertise relevant to the innovative projects they are working on. When accountants or financial experts are put in charge of car companies, they are seldom innovative leaders. They understand the finances behind the products, but not the products themselves. When engineers or car designers, on the other hand, are in charge of car companies, they have the knowledge and experience necessary to become innovative leaders for their companies. Of course, that does not guarantee they will become innovative leaders. Vision and motivation are also critical.
Drawing on the right minds
The first priority of leadership is to engage the right people, at the right time, to the right degree of creative work. That engagement begins when a leader recasts the role of their employees. Rather than simply rolling up their sleeves and executing a top-down strategy, leaders should realize that employees can also contribute their imaginations.
Without challenge, there is not enough stimulus to elicit a creative response. But too much challenge burdens and overwhelms the emotions and the mind, shutting off creative thought. In studies, productivity increased when scientists and engineers were given positive reinforcement, and encouraged to participate in policymaking.
In conclusion, it’s clear that having a vision is what delivers creativity and innovation. The creative and innovative leader is also a cultural officer — someone who identifies the norms and values of organizational efficiency and moves the whole group forward.