Foster Innovation

Navigate Leadership – Foster Innovation chapter introduction

Being innovative and inventive is often confused, but there is a subtle difference. Invention is the process of noticing and creating new ideas for products, services and processes. Innovation is “a new idea or way to do something that when exploited in some way, leads to new or improved products, processes or solutions.” Consider these approaches, regardless of whether they have a large or small impact.

Global organizations seek continual evolution, by embracing an innovative posture. Seeking new ways of doing things, experimenting at a small-scale and having a culture that enables collective thinking at all levels. Innovation or rather an innovation mindset applies to both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. For-profit organizations may need it to create a continuous throughput of products and services to meet anticipated customer needs and maximise profitability. Stakeholders in not-for-profit organizations increasingly demand a return on their investments that consist of quantitative and qualitative outputs.

An example of an organization that embraces innovation is 3M, which creates a vast array of innovative products. It may well employ industrious employees and have a great leadership team. It mandated that twenty-five per-cent of all new products be introduced within its last five years, requiring to develop an innovative posture. To achieve this goal it allowed employees to spend fifteen per-cent of their working week focussing on selecting their initiatives. The role of the Executive Leader was to create the strategic mandate, shape the environment and let the teams get on with it by standing out of their way and letting them innovate. Without this catalyst, perhaps, the range of products and services would not occur.


In this Chapter, the focus is on the role of the Executive Leader in forming and shaping the innovative environment.


Innovation Through New Voices

Gary Hamel . “Strategy Innovation and the Quest for Value.”
Sloan Management Review. Vol. 39, No. 22 (1998). pp. 7–14. suggests that in order to create an environment that thinks and seeks innovation, new ways, practices and methodologies, it needs to create five preconditions in the organization:

  • New voices: Creating an environment in which all can participate and are encouraged to offer insights, ideas, challenges to the status quo.  We are not all located in the same room, leave aside the same building, so this presents a challenge to an organization operating in the virtual environment.
  • New conversations: The development of dialogue at all levels in the organization looking at the known through new lenses. Asking ourselves why and seeking leaner, practices, products and services.
  • New passions: Giving the employees a stake in their future, motivating them to contribute and rewarding them for their inputs.
  • New perspectives: Get the team to look at the known through new lenses.  Perhaps we have simply missed the blazingly obvious.
  • New experiments: We should try new approaches, and if trialled at small-scale, what do we have to lose?  It it does not work, then study the lessons learned and use them in the future.  If it works, consider scaling up.

I have always been of the opinion that real change is simply the accumulation of small change.  Perhaps we need to use Hamel’s approach to create new approaches within our teams, departments and ultimately our organizations.