Great Values of a Team: INNOVATE
Innovation has definitely become a buzz word in the last decade. Google. Facebook. Apple. Amazon. Uber…just to name a few companies that have wowed us with their fresh outside-of-the-box ideas and their courage to pursue them.
But what does innovation mean for everyday leaders like you and me? If we were to incorporate innovation into our own team cultures, where would we even begin?
While innovation leads us to think of grand inventions of our age, such as cell phones or the internet, we must not be intimidated by the vastness of this word. I believe that leaders should understand innovation first by answering these five questions:
1. Do you want to create or to replicate?
2. Do you dare to dream big and think creatively? Or do you cling to what you already know?
3. Does your team have the capacity to organize and empower thinkers?
4. Does your team have the capacity to bring together the executors and the doers?
5. Are you willing to take risks?
Are you ready to start thinking about adopting innovation as one of the values of the organization you lead? Then let’s examine each of these questions a little more closely.
Innovate or replicate?
While innovate means to come up with bold new ideas that push the envelope, replication and innovation are not mutually exclusive. When Apple came up with the iPod, their first generation music listening device (yes, I had one), at the time there were many similar devices on the market. They were called MP3 players. So Apple, under Steve Job’s leadership, replicated some ideas, but then significantly enhanced them with new technology and simple design. It was the same for the Wright brothers, pioneering the first successful airplane, and Thomas Edison with the light bulb. Creating, inventing, and innovating are not always about starting from scratch.
Apple’s next innovation, the iPhone, was also created in a similar manner. There were many smartphones on the market at that time. I used to love my Palm phones. Then there were Blackberries. Again, Apple began with some basic ideas from existing models, then introduced out-of-this-world ideas and design to create the iPhone.
So this trend begs the question, why innovate new ideas at all? Why spend Research and Development dollars on something brand new if you don’t have to? Why innovate when you can simply replicate what others have already discovered, and then use your energy and R&D budget on marketing and execution?
This line of thinking does seem practical. In a way it is less risky, at least short term. And so often, when our organizations are small, it seems like the only viable option. But we all know that great companies, and great leaders, always encourage innovative thinking and action, regardless of the risk.
When you innovate, (whether it begins with your own idea or vastly improving on someone else’s) it does something to the collective consciousness of your people. It evokes energy, hope, and a fierceness of spirit that tells everyone that we can do something remarkable together.
Innovation is discovery. Innovation is creativity. Innovation is art. Think with me about these people who dared to go into the unknown to discover the magnificent: Roald Amundsen and his Norwegian team were the first people on the South Pole. Sir Edmund Hillary, the first on Everest. What did that boldness do to them as persons? Imagine how Thomas Edison felt, or Albert Einstein, or Mark Zuckerberg. What innovation does for a person, it also does for a group of people and for the entire organization. Innovation and discovery demand a certain level of faith and boldness, that once tapped into, breathe life into an organization.
Other reasons to innovate? Usually those who get there first, stay ahead. If you want to copy what others are doing and neglect to innovate, you will often lag behind in implementation and maximization. Moreover, an inventive company attracts the best people to it. When you are known as a place that is always on the cutting edge of what you do and what you discover, the best will come to you.
For you and me, innovation may not mean having a full-time dedicated team to Research and Development. But who knows, maybe if you make it your goal, you can have that team one day. Until then, I encourage you to make it a part of the culture and expectation of everyone with you: to think outside the box and to have the boldness and courage to regularly try new ideas.
Dream big or stay small?
Innovators have confidence and faith in themselves, in others, and some in God, that they can pursue grand visions and create revolutionary answers to our most challenging problems. A core tenet of innovators is: “The sky is the limit!”
Innovation is a leadership issue. As the leader, you have to set the expectations and model them. Do you dream big? Do you think you can imagine revolutionary products and services?
Can you empower thinkers?
To become an innovative company, start small. You must start by strategizing how to bring together and empower the best thinkers you can possibly have around you. The biggest challenge I face is to be free from the tyranny of the urgent. You see, most of the time innovation is not a pressing matter, and anything in life that is not urgent takes discipline to complete.
Bring thinkers together, or invite them to think alone. Challenge your team to come up with creative solutions to common problems or great challenges. Who are the right people to ask? Everyone. However, you will find that some people are naturally thinkers. Empower those people to lead your innovation efforts.
Can you assemble doers and executors?
Innovation is not idea generation. Many of us can generate great ideas. Innovation takes it further. Innovation requires the courage, the resources, and most of all the initiative to create. Innovation means taking ideas all the way to completion to see if they actually work. This takes a team that is accustomed to and supportive of action and change.
Success in innovation often hinges on execution. While the great ideas have to be there, many leaders, companies, and teams don’t have the initiative to see it through.
Will you take the risk?
Will you? It is risky to innovate. You risk your time and your resources. You risk failure and ridicule. Do you think creating is advantageous enough to make it a value of your leadership and the organizations you lead?
Actionable Step: Start a list with your team of what you’d like to innovate. Then decide who will be tasked with thinking and who will be tasked with execution.
About me: I started writing this blog from Pike’s Peak in Colorado. Since I live in Crowley, Texas at about 600 ft above sea level, being close to 12,000 feet has knocked the wind out of me a bit. But I survived. It is beautiful out here.
What I Am Reading Now: The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and The Bible in Nazi Germany by Susannah Heschel. Professor of Jewish Studies at Darmouth College, Dr. Heschel wrote this scholarly work describing an historical topic I have not previously been exposed to. In the 1930’s, a pro-Nazi movement emerged in Germany to take Judaism out of Christianity. This idea was supported by a sizable number of theologians, pastors, and bishops. They argued that Jesus was not Jewish. He was instead an Aryan, born in a multi-ethnic town of Galilee, and his life purpose was to oppose Judaism, and was killed because of it. So they saw Hitler as a fulfillment of the original intent of Jesus (to oppose Jews). They even went as far as rewriting the New Testament, removing all reference to Jewish tradition.
For Further Reading: