Thursday, 24 December 2009

The Art of Innovation Leadership

Innovation Leadership is an art because it involves understanding and managing 4 behavioural dimensions which have, until recently, remained hidden. Whilst we are probably familiar with Sun Tzu’s and Marcus Aurelius’s maxims on the importance of self-knowledge, the psychology of Innovation Leadership has not been available in a practical form that could help leaders and organisations, until now when we need it.

Blind Drivers of Innovation
Understanding innovation leadership is a bit like driving a car. At present, most organisations manage their psychology of innovation like drivers of cars who happen to be blind. It is possible to become relatively successful at leading an organisation through the medium of traditional performance measures. These are much like the cues that a blind driver uses to stay in the correct lane on the motorway. By listening to the sound cues of irregular bumping of tyres over cat’s eyes on one side of the car, and the screeching noise of the other side of the car grinding along the side of the oncoming traffic or stationary vehicles or building, a crude form of progress can be managed; even if getting onto and off the motorway is problemmatic. Every year, there are stories of blind drivers in remote rural areas (usually with a child or drunk giving instructions from the passenger seat) being chased and halted by astounded traffic police. It clearly can be done, and is being done, more or less: but does it make sense? And is it acceptable?

Not being in control of your own innovation leadership behaviour as a leader, is like leading your team or organization as though it is a car that you choose to drive with your eyes closed. Most people have no idea what their innovation leadership profile is. They are in effect, blind leaders of innovation. We are probably all familiar with the idea that it is not what leaders say, but how leaders actually behave that has the most impact on organisations, and that it is their behaviour that sends the strongest messages and provides the most powerful cues as to what defines successful performance in the organisation.

The key to successful leadership of innovation begins with understanding

• The 4 Innovation Leadership Behaviours (ILB),
• The limitations of where you are now (in terms of your actual ILB profile)
• The nature of the challenge (in terms of your preferred ILB profile), and
• Being hungry enough to want to change, to take control, to do something about it.

For some leaders, the idea of developing an understanding of their own ILB profiles (actual and preferred) can be intimidating, much as primitive tribes were afraid that photography would steal their souls, or that to study and seek to understand the behavioural patterns might destroy the power of a secret formula by exposing it. But as they say at the Royal Air Force’s Parachute Training School: “Knowledge Dispels Fear”. And this knowledge is essential, and if you have it then it becomes possible to ask yourself:

1.What will it take to move out of efficiency strategies into effectiveness strategies?
2. What can I contribute to making this organisation more successful?
3. What kind of innovation leadership should I be working on?
4. How can I develop myself to make a difference, and become more effective?

The 4 Innovation Leadership Behaviours (ILBs)

For innovation to occur in an organization, you need a mix of at least 4 generic types of Innovating Leadership Behaviours – Creators, Translators, Stabilisors and Navigators. When planned for, encouraged and balanced correctly they can promote and deliver continuous innovation.

They are:

Creators - Who provide the source of new, disruptive ideas.
Translators - Who connect new ideas to new opportunities.
Stabilisors - Who build quality delivery systems for products and services.
Navigators - Who anticipate what’s coming, know when to get in, when to get out, and how to manage it.

The 4 Innovating Leadership Behaviours are extreme stereotypes and usually (but not always) I find that leaders’ profiles have proportions of all four in their own characteristic “portfolio” depending on the limitations of their experience, work environment and their natural work preferences.

Understanding the implications of leaders' ILB patterns is a powerful source of information on the limitations of the existing strategy and what is going to be required to move out of efficiency and survival into effectiveness and growth, in difficult times.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Chunking, or The Leader's Rule of 3

This innovation leadership tool is about rapidly identifying the vital few issues and obstacles that need to be managed or dealt with, and allocating attention and resources to them.

The “Rule of 3” is an idea I engineered from studying leadership, change and innovation. It’s the product of combining Pareto’s Principle, Williams’ close observation of Field Marshall Montgomery’s characteristic approach to getting things done and Max Atkinson’s research on successful speech-making.

Pareto’s Principle suggests that 80% of the effects observed in a situation are caused by a mere 20% of the population. His original 1906 observation was that 80% of the wealth in Switzerland was held by only 20% of the population. This has become a quality method for identifying the most powerful variables in a situation which need to be controlled to manage failure.

Field-Marshall Montgomery: Brigadier Williams serving as Montgomery’s Intelligence Chief [i] noticed his preference for 3-part lists as a means of simplifying complex issues and concentrating resources. In Hamilton's biography of Montgomery[ii] , he notes that in the last year of WW2 Monty was constantly trying to stop the Americans attacking across a broad front to incur 100,000 casualties instead of concentrating at a few points, feinting at one and then making the main effort at another. As Monty said in a letter after the command performance scandal of the Battle of Bulge: "We have failed to date by trying to do too many things and not giving enough resources to any of them to ensure success..."

Max Atkinson[iii] points out the power of leaders simplifying big issues through 3-part focused lists in his analysis of powerful political speeches, particularly their “air of unity or completeness”. It is as though we are programmed to listen more deeply to a 3-part list when we know it is coming, and that audience interruptions tend to occur after 3 points have been stated within a longer list.

Chunking as a Technique (or Identifying and Working on the Vital Few)
This technique is designed to gain a rapid understanding of the vital few issues that need to be managed to be successful. It requires use of the Creative Silence technique to brainstorm all the problems and obstacles involved in delivering the goal.

The goal or the aim must be clearly stated. The team must have had time to immerse themselves in the data involved in the situation.

In preparation a flipchart sheet needs to be prepared with the word “Start” at the top and “Finish” at the bottom, everyone must have pink post-its (for brainstorming issues or obstacles to delivering the goal) and black medium pens to write with. You invite the group to silently brainstorm the issues or obstacles that need to be managed to deliver success. They share these, 3 at a time. You apply CGSM (Common, Ground, Special, Missing) and concentrate the groupings to simplify the themes down to at least 3, with a hidden willingness if necessary to reduce to 2 or expand to 4 or 5, depending on the nature of the challenge. These pink issues or obstacles post-its are then put in an approximate sequence to the left of the vertical arrow connecting “Start” and “Finish”.

Having broken down the issues or obstacles to the vital few (possibly the top 3), then break your team into 3 parts, and allocate 10 minutes for the 3 sub-teams to work concurrently on developing solutions for overcoming the top 3 issues, writing their solutions onto blue post-its and positioning these to the right of the vertical arrow, parallel to issue or obstacle they deal with.

Invite the sub-teams to share these and for the others to add value to their prototype solutions. Identify or vote on the optimal solutions. Use the 3-part list of obstacles and matched solutions in your communication strategy.

[i] Howarth, T.E.B (1985) Monty At Close Quarters, Leo Cooper/ Secker & Warburg: London/ New York, p22.
[ii] Hamilton, N. (1987) Monty: The Field-Marshall, Vol.3; Hodder & Stoughton, p254.
[iii] Atkinson, M. (1984) Our Masters’ Voices: The Language and Body Language of Politics, pp57-72.