Monday, 22 October 2012

Innovation Blindness

One of the weird things about innovation is the way practitioners find themselves focusing on what appear to be the essential components of innovation, in other words: innovation processes and stage gate decision making meetings. Ironically, they are worrying about the furniture of innovation and not the innovation behaviours that make it possible. It’s another example of how managers tend to work on doing things right even when they are focusing on the wrong things, instead of doing the right thing.

 You can have the wrong people in the room with the best innovation processes and stage gate decision making tools: and you probably will fail.  And you can have the great people in the room with mediocre tools: and they will somehow find a way to succeed.

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 drunk giving instructions from the back 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?

 Innovation processes are useful, but innovative people are essential.

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.

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