Leading for innovation: the one thing you need to know

I have seen a lot of blog posts lately with titles such as ‘The 20 Top Leadership Traits’. It reminds me of magazines at Christmas emblazoned with ‘300 ideas for an easy Christmas’. So I thought it would be simpler to identify the one thing a leader for innovation cannot do without: it’s curiosity.

Curiosity is the key to all things innovative. We have known this for a long time. In Ecclesiastes it says ‘Be curious in unnecessary matters for more things will be revealed to thee than men understand’.  Let me explain why I think curiosity is so important.

Curiousity about yourself

A leader must also be a learner and that means being curious about yourself. To lead well you need to understand your strengths and weaknesses, adapt to new situations and learn all the time. I find active reflection a very valuable part of my day. I think about a situation, how I have behaved and what happened and reflect on how I might have behaved differently to get better outcomes. Reflection should not just be navel gazing, that is why I say active reflection: it should result in some learning about yourself and be a catalyst for improvement.

Curiosity about ideas

As a leader you have a big responsibility to support new ideas. New ideas are fragile and can be killed by a shrug or a negative comment, especially if it comes from a person with power. So instead of saying ‘We don’t do things like that’ or ‘We’ve tried that’ when a new idea comes along, a leader needs to be curious about it and show interest. Even if it turns out to be a bad idea, a great deal of damage can be done by crushing it: not only will you lose a possibly good idea, you will also send a message to staff that you are not interested in hearing new ideas. In the first weeks of my starting a new job there was an ideas competition. As a fresh new recruit, I could see lost of ways of doing things differently so I submitted an idea. At the whole organisation meeting about the future the CEO announced that there had been five ideas for the competition but that they were all ‘rubbish’ and that was that. I never gave him another of my ideas.

Curiosity about people

Of course whilst a new idea is necessary for innovation, it is not sufficient. It needs to be the right idea for the situation and you need to make it happen. You will not be able to make it happen without the right team. You will not know who that team needs to be or what skills they need if you are not curious about people. Being curious about people you meet, your own staff, beneficiaries and volunteers will introduce you to a wealth of skills and experiences. I met a social entrepreneur recently who knew he wanted a particular style of crafted website. He had no web skills or art skills but because he was very curious about people he happened to know an animator and a web design person. Connecting them together resulted in the look he wanted for his website. Being curious about people allows you to make the connections you need to innovate.
Curious enough to take a risk

Innovation by definition involves doing something you have not done before. That involves taking an informed risk. If you are curious you will want to know what will happen if you try something. It will give you the courage to take the risks that you need to innovate. Whilst I said I would stick to one quality, I’m going to sneak another (connected) one in here…

Courage

Innovation requires courage: the courage to take a risk with something new; the courage to hold on to a shared vision and not lose your nerve when those around your are doubting; the courage to trust a team to develop an idea with freedom to experiment and adapt the idea; the courage to admit when you have to give up and a new thing has failed; the courage to be honest and open with your team; and the courage to challenge orthodoxies, ask questions, break rules and live with uncertainty.

To quote from Ecclesiastes again

Just as there is no perfect moment, there is no perfect knowing, no certainty. To remain inactive until you are certain of the result is to do nothing at all. So accept uncertainty.’

Have courage: try something new!

This blog was contributed by Katherine William-Powlett. Katherine is an Innovation specialist, and blogs about innovation for the National Council for Voluntary Organisation Blog, and has written a series of posts on Leading for Innovation.

Further reading article: The Demand for Curiosity Creativity and Innovation

More on Innovation:  http://www.ncvo-vol.org.uk/innovation

Where do good ideas come from?

From the grand 1770s building to the smart minimalist modern interior, arriving for an event at the RSA always makes an impression. Even more so when entering the great room with the wonderful mural “The process of human knowledge and culture” by James Barry, depicting various images of music played in pagan times, the grandeur of ancient Greece, wars, collaboration, religion, worship and decadent royal courts. All in painstaking detail and still in amazing good condition. The room itself is a windowless rectangle with rows of seating sloping up from the stage. Modern technology blending sympathetically with elaborate 1770s details and serving as testament that the RSA is not one to be baffled by newfangled technology. As we’re told, the video feed, podcasts and possibly an illustrated version of the talk can soon be downloaded from their website, or through their iPhone app, if you’re that way inclined. ( See the RSA website).

The room is an ideal setting for the talk by bestselling author, Steven b. Johnson, on his new book: “Where do good ideas come from”, not the least because the RSA is a very keen supporter of creativity and innovation, and several of Mr. Johnson’s case studies for his book are past RSA fellows.

Mr. Johnson opens his talk with dispelling the myth about the eureka moment, the moment when suddenly a person is struck with a brilliant new idea. Even Darwin, who claims the idea of the Origin of Species came as an epiphany, was developing his theory, or hunch as Mr. Johnson calls it, for years before which is evident from Darwin’s own notebooks.

Introducing the notion of Cities as catalysts to new ideas, Mr. Johnson argues that cities enable people to bounce ideas off one another, share discoveries or build on the ideas of others. An example he gives is the London coffee houses, which among many other ideas gave birth to Lloyds of London. The mix, variety and sheer number of people in cities create exponentially more opportunities for ideas to collide and create new ideas.

A concern for today’s society, he warns, it a growing obsession for ring-fencing our ideas so we can reap financial benefits. This kind of behaviour comes at a cost. It makes it difficult for ideas to collide and create and build on ideas, limiting the potential benefit of an idea. While IP rights has its place, it should not be used too heavily.

Truly open environments, where people develop ideas because they are passionate about it, e.g. open source software or the internet, can generate amazing new ideas and create platforms on which commerce can flourish, giving opportunities that would not have been possible had people not been willing and able to build on the ideas of others.

The GPS system was an accidental innovation – an example of how one simple idea can collide with other ideas and create an innovation that today most of us use. Food for thought.

I bought the book, I’ll let you know what I make of it.

Author: Kristine Pitts

Pressure to Innovate Getting to You?

innovation[tweetmeme]Everywhere you look/listen these days people are talking about Innovation. Business is talking about it, universities are talking about it, government is talking about it.  We need to innovate to solve climate change, and we need to innovate to stay ahead of the game… Then there is the call to innovate our way out of the economic downturn.  When don’t we need to innovate?

What is innovation anyway? Is everyone talking about the same thing? Maybe not. There are many definitions to choose from. Just google it, you’ll have more choices than you could ever want. As with everything deemed important, everyone has a take on it. It’s hard to know when you qualify as innovative. Has Open Innovation caught your attention yet? Perhaps it should? The mind boggles…

Add to it all the statistics that proclaim “90% of innovations fail!” (or somewhere in that region), it might just make most of us want to give up before we even try. What’s the point?

Feeling daunted by the pressure to innovate? Fear not, there is light at the end of the innovation tunnel, with blue skies thinking and implementable action plan to boot.

What if someone could give you the skills you needed to understand innovation, give you an understanding of what it takes to lead innovation, and the tools to make it happen? Would you want it? We’d like to think you would. Check out our new Masters in Innovation, Creativity and Leadership http://creativity.city.ac.uk/master/overview.html