Innovation is a word that often scares people. They fear the unknown. They’re comfortable with the status quo. They hesitate to embrace new processes, tools, and techniques, and they avoid new ideas that shake up their organization.
That’s the myth of innovation. Innovation can mean radical change—but it doesn’t have to. Most often, innovation consists of incremental changes that are made consistently over time. Those small changes, however, amount to powerful results.
What Innovation Is and Isn’t
People think innovation has to be the next big thing that changes everything, but that’s not really what innovation is. Think of innovation as evolution. Continual improvement. Incremental change. The perception of innovation is different from its definition, not to mention its application.
“Most innovation involves doing the things we do every day a little bit better rather than creating something completely new and different.” This description of innovation from business adviser Darin Bifani clarifies what innovation is—and what it isn’t.
Innovation begins with the identification of obstacles that stand in the way of achieving your set goals and fulfilling your shared vision—and then collaborating to overcome those obstacles in new, creative ways. Innovation involves intentionally striving to exceed expectations guided by a desire to “find a better way” in all areas of your organization.
Rarely is innovation a single, giant leap. Rather, the best execution of innovation is a series of incremental changes that reveal better ways of delivering value and ultimately lead to significant improvements. With innovation, there is no finish line.
Why Innovation Matters
Innovation allows both people and companies to grow, evolve, and thrive. By continuing to experiment with new ideas, you may fail—but you’ll also discover things that you may not have otherwise uncovered. With innovation, you’re constantly positioning yourself and your organization to not only reach, but exceed, your potential.
When it comes to business, innovation is key to both jumping the S-curve and establishing a high-performing team. Innovation leads to new enterprises, and it helps drive brand recognition, brand loyalty, and brand value. Innovative companies are market leaders that typically outperform their competitors.
In Boston Consulting Group’s historical rankings of the most innovative companies, repeat performers tend to be recognized for new accomplishments year in and year out. The most innovative companies make a meaningful impact—on their own organizations, their industries, and society.
Mindset of Innovation
“We keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious, and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
This quote from Walt Disney summarizes what it means to have an innovative mindset. Innovation requires intentional curiosity and confidence along with a growth mindset. It’s centered around the belief that there’s always a better way. Consider the following elements of an innovative mindset:
- Openness to change: Take a positive approach to experimentation, knowing there will be successes and disappointments. Believe that you can learn, grow, and better yourself.
- Embrace failure: An innovative mindset requires that you accept failure. It’s inevitable. Allow mistakes to be made.
- Intentional curiosity: Regularly ask questions and review processes with the goal of creating new ways to achieve set objectives. Encourage creativity.
- Creative collaboration: Engage in robust debate. Empower your team to speak up, ask questions, and challenge the status quo.
- Unyielding grit: Practice resilience and determination. Lean into the unrelenting passion to be better, think different, and achieve the impossible.
Innovation as a Leader
Embracing innovation is crucial to your role as a leader. As Steve Jobs, one of the greatest innovators of our time, said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”
The most responsible leaders innovate by seeing the big picture and recognizing that the most important obstacles to overcome are not always the most obvious ones. For instance, it’s easy to do things the way they’ve always been done, especially when that way still works.
As an innovative leader, you have to ask yourself if the way it’s always been done is still serving you. Is it the most efficient way? Is it moving your company forward? Does it truly get the best results, or does it just check a box?
Your role as a leader involves making sure your company keeps up with the times. Lead by example in embracing new and existing skills, technologies, tools, processes, and practices to achieve your goals.
Embrace Innovation and Welcome Growth
Understanding the definition and application of innovation in your leadership role will serve you well in moving your organization forward.
Questions to Consider
How do you define innovation?
Where have you seen innovation in your company?
What’s one area where you need to evolve?
Are you ready to get innovative? I’d love to help. Contact me to learn more about leadership development, coaching services, and additional resources.